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Sandy Barton: Memories contain living pieces of us

Lately I’ve been wondering: Is it possible for memories to be truly contained in plastic totes and cardboard boxes? In our attic are rows upon rows of totes and boxes, filled with tangible proof of our kids’ “moments” and our own. I suspect those restless memories rattle and rumble and burst through the snap-lock tops and folded flaps.

Over the past few months, I’ve listened as mothers and grandmothers tell tales of dances and boyfriends, of wars and escapes. Their memories are much different than mine, yet they’re told with the same passion, the same spark that ignites when I think of sitting on my Dad’s workbench, just watching him, or my beloved shoebox full of baseball cards.

These tales of life also seem to lie within our souls, in layers, waiting for the perfect moment to wiggle free, bubble to the surface and dance on our words for eager audiences. And what of the times when there is no one to listen? Perhaps that’s the sweetest time of all – the fleeting moment of recollection when your eyes light up and a smile magically appears on your face.

I’d like to think that the only memories we store for safe-keeping are happy ones, but I’m not that naïve. I do, however, prefer to dwell on the ones that bring a smile; it’s in those moments that I have the opportunity to relive the steps I walked on the road to becoming. Can you believe that Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris led our Morrison Avenue parade? Yep! Their baseball cards were lovingly attached to my bike spokes with clothespins, and they announced with the most splendid sound that the kids of the street were marching behind. And right at this moment I am smiling. Magic.

I wish I could crawl into the head of my Mom, 91 years young and going strong. She has told the story of her teenage years when she and her favorite guy would go to dances, kick up their heels for an evening and be recharged with the beat of Big Band music.

As she checked off a few birthdays, those carefree days morphed into war days, working at Lake Erie Engineering, and seeing the sidewalks of Delaware Avenue filled with GIs in uniform, walking arm in arm with their girls. Yet the sparkle in her eyes comes when she talks about meeting my Dad for the first time, the handsome GI home on leave. The rest is history. That memory even brings a smile to my face.

Last month, I had the honor of listening to a memory “Grandma Eva” shared with me. To me, it was the heavy and frightening nightmare of a Jewish family’s escape from Berlin before the war. To her, it was a story of victory, of unlikely assistance and of a family brought back together by grace. It was stunning.

The memories we pack away, whether in totes or in our minds, are living, breathing pieces of us. I find it fascinating to talk with my daughter about the residents with Alzheimer’s whom she has grown to love. They, too, have memories, in layers, seemingly trapped in a windowless vault. It’s a joyful day when, through music or painting, the vault opens and the colors of their world slip out, to dance but for a while.

On windy days, I hear the doors to the attic bang against the latches. I can’t help but wonder if it’s the wind or if it’s the memories, bursting through the snap-lock tops of plastic totes and flaps of cardboard boxes for a quick dance.