My parents visited us for Thanksgiving, but when they left, they left so much stuff in their wake that we may not have room for them to ever visit again. You see, a visit from my parents isn’t truly a visit from my parents unless they bring with them a load of random old…stuff and deposit it gleefully in my living room and then refuse to take any of it back home with them.
A friend of mine darkly refers to this as a “Mom Bomb.” Clearly, it’s become a cultural phenomenon. Children grow up, move out, buy their own houses…and Mom and Dad stop by with a truckload of their old stuff to leave. Then your house looks like a very old bomb went off in it. Except that my parents ratchet it up a few notches. They bring a bunch of their old stuff to get rid of at my house, too.
In recent months, I have received boxes full of the following “stuff that you really need to look at, Jennifer because you might want it”: my father’s ordination certificate, my brother’s elementary school report cards, my mother’s high school diploma, photo albums from Christmases long past, my old Girl Scout sash full of merit badges, books from my father’s office that apparently he was afraid to give to someone who might actually read them, various old wooden train engines, a box of faded old Christmas tablecloths and placemats that my mom doesn’t actually like but is too sentimental to throw away by herself, my brother’s old TV show poster collection, and oh yes, a shoebox full of those horrible shapeless plastic Barbie shoes that never stayed on Barbie’s unnaturally arched plastic feet.
There was also an old box of pre-teen books from the ’80s, containing those old classics, the Sweet Valley High books and even some of their later incarnations, the Sweet Valley Twins. Why, oh why, my mother didn’t throw those out long ago, I will never ever know. I mean, she and I are both booklovers, and I know she hates to get rid of books as much as I do, but really. You have to draw the line somewhere. You sometimes hang onto your high school classics, even the ones you hated (see: The Turn of the Screw and Jude the Obscure) because maybe one day, you’ll get around to re-reading them (or perhaps reading them for the first time) or maybe your kid will grow up to need a copy. But you’re never ever going to be taken with the need to re-read old tomes about Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield hanging out at the Dairy Burger. I hope. The guy who works at my local used bookstore is going to die when I show up with that box later this week.
Clearly, it’s a miracle that I’ve survived this long without being surrounded by this stuff. It’s like reverse Santa. Instead of bringing lovely presents for all the good little boys and girls, my parents are bringing my loads of junk to pay me back for all those years when I was a teenager.
I also received a box with a brand-new chocolate fountain. No one in my family will claim it. No one else wants it. It’s brand new, still has the $79.95 price tag on it. It may become the next Dirty Santa gift, the present that long outlives its natural life span as one unwilling recipient passes it along to the next person. See, people claim to love chocolate, but when confronted with a big clunky hard-to-clean device for containing big rivers of the candy, they tend to back off. I wonder why?
So my house is still filled with boxes. Boxes line the walls of my dining room and my front hallway. To be fair, some contain truly useful stuff; I found the box with all my files from my master’s thesis on joint operating agreements’ failure to save the newspapers they were designed to help. I was proud all over again of my research. It almost made me want to apply to a PhD program so I could continue the research; more papers have folded and many more reporters and editors have been laid off since I received my master’s degree in 2001, and the Internet is an even more potent force in the news industry. I’ll put that box in safe place and maybe one day, I’ll submit a book proposal somewhere. The box with handwritten letters from my friend Kathy, who died a few years ago, is a keeper, too.
But the Barbie shoes are going out. And the chocolate fountain may just end up at your house.