The baggage of childhood

Elsie T. Chisolm

May 21, 1991|By Elsie T. Chisolm

RECENTLY we had a family reunion. They came by plane, or car bringing presents, food, their laundry and their pent-up sibling rivalries.

Some looking highly successful, some looking comfortable. From three-piece suiters to the yuppie with designer labels from discount stores, to what looks like today's wino clothing or college campus threads from the Sixties - knees-out jeans and torn T-shirts.

But it's a wonderful time for mothers and fathers -- just to see them all finally grown, out of braces and into capped teeth. No more tuition payments.

We are all talking and laughing when some rotten kid asks, ''Mom, what happened to my first Barbie doll, the one with the tea set?''

The kid is 46.

Even the grandchildren look askance, but then they are much more into wind surfers or Nintendo.

Starting with Barbie's demise my husband and I find that we are explaining in depth: ''Dear, since we have moved nine times and are now into something smaller than the big house; and since you went to college and then got married, we had to go through things, and cull out . . . We didn't know you would, uh, need her, uh, Barbie.''

Another girl/woman asks, ''Where are the Betsy McCall paper dolls Mindy and I played with for three summers in a row?''

A son asks: ''Mom, somewhere you must have my class ring. I'd kind of like it back, to show my kids.''

Another son: ''Mom, dad, can you remember where you would have put a drawing I did of a large turtle in 5th grade. I got an A on it. I'd love to have it now, we are framing some of our . . . ''

Another wonders if we might still have a lacrosse stick marked ''Go Creeps, go.''

Finally, it is time to defend their father and myself.

I rise and give a five-minute talk on what it is like to move across the country with four kids and a dog and a cat, and how expensive it is to take everything you've ever had.

One move we had to leave the dog with friends. Why, these kids should be dern thankful we still have photos of them.

Oh, I know some parents have said to me: ''Oh, it's so great, the kids are all gone now and we have gained four closets and a whole room for our computer.''

Not I. Every time they left home to find themselves, go to college or live with a significant other, we moved to something more compact. Really, we never had the money the Cleavers had.

Anyway, defending myself like a linebacker against the memorabilia SWAT team, I tell them: ''Enough already, your father and I kept things as long as we could. But silverfish ate all the Barbies and paper dolls. And dear, I think you lost your class ring the night of the senior prom, or you may have given it to Tammy Lou, that bimbo.''

I add: ''I do have two retainers that I kept, in case any of your children need an orthodontist. I also kept all your report cards.

Then I tell them the real truth: ''Frankly, we don't want you guys to have to mess with our things, sort through them. So we are scaling down for, you know . . . when we go.''

''Go WHERE?'' they chorused.

My god, they thought we were moving again, when here I am trying to save them extra work when we go to the Great Beyond where there won't be attics and basements for storage. Ungrateful kids!

''Who wants the report cards and retainers?'' I yell.

No one speaks up.

Memories are made of THIS?

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