“Step away from the gnome!” I threatened.
We were in the attic. My eyes hurled daggers as my husband picked up the two-foot-tall garden gnome and headed for the “toss” pile. The gnome was a little raggedy and begged for a new paint job. Dumpy, as I called him (the gnome, not my husband), was one of those oddball finds that seem so great at the time then mutate into one of those, “What was I thinking?” episodes of my life. Again, I’m talking about the gnome, not my husband.
It had come to this. I had baked Ina Garten’s wonderful Lemon Yogurt Cake three times since the onset of social distancing. I might as well have just strapped the cakes to my thighs as that’s where they ended up anyway. So, no more baking. Next, we moved on to purging every closet and dusting every shadowy cobwebbed corner in the house. Marie Kondo would have been proud. Finally, after exhausting the cleaning and vowing not to turn into Netflix-addicted couch potatoes, we moved onto the final frontier: the attic.
The good thing about living in a 100-year-old bungalow is there is a huge old attic. The bad thing about living in a 100-year old bungalow is there is a huge old attic that becomes the never-never-land for all of life’s discards that I’m not-quite-ready to give up.
Who needs a waffle iron? I had moved into the world of Eggoland long ago. Boxes of never used glassware — Goodwill, here you go. Old trophies, gone, including my cherished 1985 Chicago Sun Times Most Improved Bowler award for my league (how could I have missed when I started out with a 33 average?) Goodbye to the old “costume bag,” a hard toss considering it holds some of our family’s greatest, always handmade costumes.
“Are you sure you want to get rid of all this stuff?” my husband asked. “They’re reminders of the good times — both of them.” He turned to me with that grin, my cue to laugh. I gave him the obligatory, yet anemic, “Ha.”
We became the rock stars of attic cleaning: out with this and box up that.
I was avoiding the last corner of the attic.
Veiled threats to adult children had led to ultimatums, all falling on deaf ears. “I’m tossing your old Fisher Price dinosaurs and dolls if you don’t pick them up! I mean it this time!” I snorted. What was with those kids? Was this stuff sacred memorabilia, a testament to their childhood? Fine, come and get it. Put it in your attic! It was an old conversation.
I picked up Nicole, a tattered baby doll, and looked into her screaming red eye. She had once fallen victim to a magic marker. (“Look, Mommy! Nicole has a boo-boo!”) Nicole really didn’t take up much room at all. Maybe we’d hold on to her for just a little longer.
I glanced at the collection of dinosaurs, sturdily built to withstand any 3-year-old’s roughhousing and slobber. I remember the battles those dinosaurs had that kept the boy kid occupied. Maybe I would keep just a few. I rationalized they didn’t take up much room and maybe some future roughhousing, slobbering kid would love them.
As I nestled the dinos and red-eyed Nicole back in one of the “save boxes,” I thought they might get lonesome up here, tucked away up here in the dark. But maybe not — they’d have Dumpy the Gnome to keep them company.
— Margaret Hopkins
Margaret Hopkins has been documenting her kids’ comings and goings since they were tots. She hopes someday to blackmail them with some of it.