The Things We Hold On To.

I’ve been carrying a box labeled “Becka’s Things” around with me for ages.  It made its way up to New York City in 1996 shortly after I arrived, sneakily shipped by Mrs. Johnny Rocket along with a care package full of cheese tortellini, pasta sauce, my dad’s seven layer cookies, and a bottle of wine.  She’d hoped the last two items would distract me from the extra box that I most decidedly did not request.  Nice try.

Some context: MJR went through an empty-nester phase in the ‘90s during which she was determined to rid her home of all of our lingering possessions, my siblings’ and mine.  It was a serious tug of war for a while there; a typical conversation might go like this:

MJR: “I found a green dress of yours in the back bedroom closet and I’m packaging it up with some other things to send to you.”

Me: “Mom, that’s my prom dress.  Please don’t ship it to me.”

MJR: “Okay, but I want you to look through that closet when you’re home in November.  Your father and I really don’t have a lot of storage space here.”

Me: “Your house has five bedrooms.  I’m sharing a room, I sleep on the floor, and I don’t even have a closet to hang that dress in.  I’m begging you.”

Eventually, a moratorium on all future shipments of my childhood memories was agreed upon, at least until I had a more permanent place (yet another reason for this gal to stay out of the real estate market) and the madness stopped with the exception of that one lone box, “Becka’s Things,” that slipped through under a veil of confections and cabernet.

The box arrived.  I draped a scarf on it, temporarily called it a bedside table, and proceeded to haul it up and down multitudes of stairs, carrying it with me from apartment to apartment, for the next several years.  I’d open it intermittently to sift through its contents, occasionally adding something new to the mix.  Fifteen years down the road that box was full to busting, covered with dust, and starting to show its age when I loaded it into the back of my car and turned south for Florida and beyond.

Which is all to say that I’ve been thinking a lot this week about “Becka’s Things” and its contents.  About the stuff I’ve held on to for all of these years.  What’s in there, you ask?  Mostly photographs, journals, and letters (or postcards) that document, in one form or another, the past two decades or so of my life.  It’s a box full of friends and family and romantic angst.  Dee and Jay are in there. And Bobby.  And the Bestie.  Many many postcards from Johnny Rocket (apparently an affinity for sending postcards is hereditary) along with the two-page email response my scientist father sent answering my question, “Why’s the sky blue?”  Page after page of college era journal entries detailing the excruciating ways that Bobby broke my not-yet-battle-tested heart.  Some truly awful poetry, mostly inspired by stupid Bobby and my sadly broken heart.  Stacks and stacks of small-time newspapers with my by-line in bold.  Photos of my now adult nieces when they were kids and an assortment of cards and letters written to me in their childish scrawl.  The handwritten mostly true story about the time my sister and brother, in a jealous fit, sat me down to tell me there was no Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny (MJR loves that one) and the meticulously typed out speech, on 3×5 note cards, about civil liberties that I won an award for at a competition in the tenth grade.

There’s stuff in that box that embarrasses me, for sure.  And stuff that makes me alternately laugh out loud and get a little misty-eyed.  Some of the items I would reach into open flames to rescue (anything with my dad’s handwriting on it) while others I’m seriously contemplating shredding (all of the journals, every last one).  I’d love to finally get the photographs into albums chronologically and maybe do the same for the newspaper clippings, but there’s time for that later.  For now, I’m removing a few precious bits and resealing the rest in a new box.  I’m labeling it “Becka’s Things” and setting it aside for the long drive to Texas in a few weeks where it may just find itself draped with a scarf and standing in as a makeshift bedside table (did I mention I own no furniture?  Not one piece.)

The thing about a box full of stuff you’re holding on to?  It makes you think a bit about the things you’ve let go of.  And the things that have voluntarily left or been taken away. Especially when the stuff you’re holding on to contains little pieces, small bits and reminders, of all of those other now missing things.

And then, when you’ve thought about all of those things – the things you’re holding on to, the things that have left, the things that have been taken away – you get down to the real nitty gritty, I’d say: The things that you carry that you can’t or don’t or wouldn’t ever put down.  In the last few days – the last year, truly – I’ve been thinking lots about those things, too.  You guys know what I’m talking about, right?  The really really important things?  As I reflect on the year that’s just ended and look towards the year that’s ahead and as I think about once again packing up my belongings for a big move, I’m excited to take all of those really really important things, the whole lot of them, forward with me.  That’s some stuff worth holding on to, for sure.

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