Treasures buried in the nest

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ASHBURNHAM

There is nothing empty about my nest, though my children are off doing adult-like things in big cities. They are meandering into their futures, having left my nest filled with the junk of their childhoods. It is my 2012 resolution to empty out, to de-clutter, to organize. This is no moral high road. I have been forced to this determination by shame.

It happened when I went to vacuum and polish up the Mercury Sable on which my youngest learned to drive. It bears the scars of his inchoate attempts to avoid our mailbox and one of his favorite teacher’s cars, the latter encounter leaving a bright blue smear across both passenger-side doors. The car served us well, kept that boy alive, but its time was nigh. Before sticking a FOR SALE sign onto the dashboard, I searched for the title, pulling boxes and enormous clear Tupperware totes from the attic and from closets. I emptied the contents of all the desks in the house. I called all the kids -- in case they took that Sable title into their new lives?

No title. No sale. The poor car languishes in my driveway like an orphan in a Shirley Temple movie. No one to love it. No paper trail to prove its legitimacy.

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National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm talked to experts recently about the millions of hoarders who now live in the U.S., clinging to material goods they cannot bear to part with. I am appalled by too much stuff, refuse to watch television shows about hoarders, yet, clearly I am among those millions.

The final straw came when I found a brick in one of the oversized Tupperware containers marked "mementos" in the attic. It was recovered from my old elementary school, St. Charles Borromeo, that once perched regally on the corner of Briggs and Lenox Avenues, near the compound that still includes St. Charles Church, rectory and former convent. Years of memories came wafting back when I hefted that brick in my hand. Ghosts of Sisters Joseph Marie and Joan Catherine floated about the attic -- they were my favorites.

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I saw myself among a row of girls lined up along Briggs Avenue, across from the convent, waving anxious arms and shouting "Sister, Sistr, Str," pleading with the nuns who were crossing the street to allow us to carry their briefcases into the school. Black leather Mary Poppins’ bags, filled with magical school supplies and holy cards with pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the dolorous Virgin Mary. Our little girl arms strained under their weight, but we knew well, by eight years old, that such sacrifices paid in spades in the afterlife, and so we lined up each morning, rain or shine, to garner the privilege of serving the women who would become -- for many of us -- our most significant mentors.

Before I could lay the brick back into its plastic nest, a rogue sunbeam glinted off my father’s firefighter badges and white helmet that he gifted to my son, the oldest grandson, for posterity. Into how many fires had this helmet dashed? Was it the sub-zero fire on Pomeroy Avenue where dad got frostbite on his ears? Was it one of the practice fires set in the tower at the Peck’s Road station? How many times had we visited that station, longing to slide down the pole from the second floor, shaking hands with Mr. Reilly and Mr. Reddy, all of dad’s firefighter friends who forsook their bowls of beef stew in the kitchen to check out how tall we Decker brood had gotten.

My youngest sister Juliann is a professional organizer. She says things like: put it away for six months, if you must. After that time, if you have not used it, get rid of it.

I will not use that brick. I will never fight a fire with that helmet. I can barely stand up under its weight. Yet -- I am keeping those things that honor me and mine -- that is another thing she says: Keep the things that are sacred. Not so useful, really, those artifacts of my old life, but sacred, oh yeah. I thought my attic was filled with the stuff of my children’s youth, but my own is nestled in among theirs, the generations cohabiting peaceably.

The Sable yawns in the driveway. It is anything but sacred, and I want it to find a loving home once I prove it is mine. I will hunt that title down, once I get out of the attic. But there is a world up there, a host of stories, and while I am resolute, I am also old enough to know that a nest worth living in is feathered by the most precious of weathered bits.

Donna Decker is associate professor of English at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH. She grew up in Pittsfield and visits her family who still resides here. Decker lives in Ashburnham, Massachusetts where she raised the three grown children who have recently, just about fled the nest, and where she is on currently on sabbatical, writing a novel about the 1989 Montreal Massacre.


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