I’m diving into my guest room today because it’s got to get cleaned out. Diving is the operative word because it has become the repository for all “things that have no place.” Do you have a room like that?
Oh, an extra blanket? Throw it on the fold-out couch in the guest room because guests need blankets, right?
Extra graduation supplies from daughter’s high school graduation party last year? Put it in the guest room — we don’t have anyone staying for a while.
The list goes on and on of all the things that we end up putting in the guest room because, at any particular moment, we have no idea what to do with them. It’s the equivalent of the kitchen junk drawer — but more.
Our guest room has become a modern-day kitchen midden.
The old typewriter, into which someone has loaded a piece of paper, sits by the window, an accent piece, a piece of history. It had been hidden in the closet of the very first classroom I moved into, way in the back, stacked with mimeographed copies of who-knows-what. After asking around, it became clear that no one wanted it. Heavy to lift, I lugged it home to my tiny apartment. It’s hardly valuable, but it reminds me of my first typing class in school (oh Lord, we had a typing class!) and how hard one had to strike the keys to get anything printed on the page. That anyone — women mostly — could type with any speed was a wonder. Thank goodness they traded those old manuals for electric while I was in school. Today, people develop keyboarding skills early in life, without a class (imagine!), because those skills are lifelines to communication on every device. We have added “typing skills” to the many talents of our opposable thumbs so we can text, tweet and snapchat away. The guest room seemed like a logical place for the typewriter. Where else would it go?
The guest room is flanked one one side by an armoire that my husband and I bought early in our marriage because I loved the fact that you could hide everything — and on the other side by my mother-in-law’s antique credenza with glass doors where you purposely display the contents. Both are deserving of a full day’s exploration.
There are pictures and old books, art supplies and 35 mm slides . . . kid projects and baby books. With every piece, another story begs to be told.
I carefully pull out the tiny English-Greek translation book that my father gave my husband before our first trip to Greece. My Greek dad, now long gone, had inscribed it with the hope that his American son-in-law might pick up some of my ancestor’s native tongue. We had leafed through it, laughing at the way my husband tried to pronounce words and phrases. Dad’s handwriting, though, is what makes it so special to me. His fountain-pen script is very European and elegant and, somehow by magic, when I read the inscription, I feel him with us.
There are the Greek dolls from my childhood and those that we picked up on our travels abroad. They are at once souvenirs and educational artifacts, cultural touchstones and family heirlooms. When my younger daughter decided to try Greek dancing through our local church this year, we pulled out the dolls to study the costuming. Pictures of my slightly-younger-than-millennial daughter dressed in the many layers of the traditional Greek costume take me back to the days when I also joined our Greek dance troupe. This is something Greek-American children have done since the early days of immigration to America. Greek line-dancing connects our children to their grandparents and to the ancestral homeland. It richly adds to their identity, their place in the world. It makes the global, personal.
I soon come to realize that cleaning out this room is going to take much longer than I anticipated. With each discovery, stories flood my mind. I am left standing and staring into space, remembering.
Today, one picture in particular, has me steeped in rushing thoughts. It’s a picture from a series of photographs that my parents had taken professionally of me when I was a baby. This one was the one they chose to frame.
My earliest memories are that I loved talking on the phone. That I could talk to my grandparents from my home in NJ to theirs in NY, or to my father while he was traveling, was magical. I had my play phones, but I remember how I loved the sound of the dial tone when I picked up the receiver of a real one. This toy replica of a standard black dial phone was one of my earliest, but I remember my toy pink princess phone as I got a little older. When I finally reached adolescence, my favorite phone was the one that had an 8 foot cord which allowed me to travel into the hallway closet or to the basement stairs, where I could close the door behind me for a little privacy. I spent hours on the phone because I craved that personal connection with those who weren’t in my house, with my friends who became everything to me.
There are so many more treasures and junk to sort through today. We have our niece visiting this weekend and I must get this room cleaned out so she has someplace to sleep. I’m afraid I might be in over my head. Maybe, though, if I clean out the armoire enough, I can use it to hide — err, store — a few more things. Then again, I can always move some stuff under my bed. Who would know?