My mom is preparing to put our house on the market. It’s not technically our childhood home – I lived in Oregon until fourth grade and my sister was born there – but we’ve lived in that house for nearly fifteen years and it was definitively home.
In a way, for Kevin and I the move is helping solidify our married-nest apartment in Vancouver as my new home. It helps that we’re actually married now, but we also finally have the opportunity to settle down. We were in Salem with the expectation that we could be leaving at any moment for grad school, and anyone who’s been to college can testify to the dual-home sensation you get as a student. In a way, it’s been six years since I could comfortably call just one place “home.”
Vancouver, though, is going to be home, thanks to Kevin’s job and my decision to put off grad school for a while. Now we can decorate, put some real thought into how we use our storage space, and finally stock our pantry with staples so I don’t have to run to the store for pasta sauce every time I need it. (Oh the thrilling lives of grown-ups!) We’re adding furniture for looks, not just for practicality, like the big upright mirror that lived in my mom’s sewing room for so many years. The little cabinet I painted in high school is now holding all my purses in my closet, whereas in our last apartment, they were just scattered on the floor. Both of those pieces came to me thanks to our two moves.
My mom’s move also unearthed the parts of my childhood that had been gently packed away in storage. My American Girl dolls made an appearance, and while they’re probably going back into storage, I still enjoyed carefully peeling back layer after layer of tiny, beautiful dresses. I found my Legos, too – those are not going back into storage. I rooted through the heaps of board games and found Star Wars Monopoly alongside Scrabble and Pictionary. I also discovered twelve years’ worth of classroom artwork ranging from lumpy, misshapen clay pitchers to embossed metal masks to uneven stained-glass jewelry boxes. I sorted through dolls that had either been tucked into storage boxes or sequestered in the curio cabinet: the obligatory creepy porcelain doll with her dainty floral dress and unblinking eyes, the Russian nesting dolls, a wooden Santa Lucia.
I only occasionally felt a twinge of what I’ll call “Toy Story syndrome.” Many of the things in storage were there because they wouldn’t be missed. These “toys” had some quirk that kept them from being true toys – they were funny-looking, or fragile, or their purpose was too limited. Creepy Porcelain Doll was, well, creepy. Plus she was too fragile for actual play, she didn’t even have moving arms, and she only came with one outfit, which included a hat sewed to her head. What can you do with that?
But some of these toys – a stuffed puppy, the Beanie Babies, and especially the American Girl dolls – had whole mythologies developed around them, taking full advantage of their endless versatility. They had names and personalities, skill sets, friends and true loves. They had roles to play – warriors, princesses, wise women, bad guys, wizards, etc. They went on adventures to whatever place had most recently caught my eye in an old National Geographic I’d been flipping through. I even found a paper tucked inside the nesting dolls listing, in my eight-year-old’s handwriting, each doll’s name and age.
When I found all these toys, I felt like I was watching the end of “Toy Story 3,” remembering the stories those toys had had, but recognizing that their time had passed. Most of them I had forgotten about, but the storytelling itself didn’t go away. Naming my dolls, assigning them an age, and giving them a role to play in a scenario has just evolved into creating characters for books. I’m a little proud of my eight-year-old self – she seems to have known what she was doing.