Nostalgia And Sentiment: My Christmas Clean Out Sabotaged!

Larissa Dann

The Christmas break. I set myself two main tasks: help the family prepare for Christmas; and clean out the garage. You know, declutter. I found, however, that Nostalgia became my subverting companion in these missions.

I have a mountain of video tapes gathering dust. Years ago, when my son was born, I was very alone, and hundred of kilometres from my parents. As this was their first grandchild and they could not delight in him in person, my gift to them was to document as much of his life as possible. My huge VHS video recorder was always at the ready. I am sure that my son will remember me with a seemingly permanent black growth on my face, a red dot indicating the protuberance was alive and recording. Always recording. I would dutifully make a copy of each tape to send to my parents.

Twenty years later - and who owns a video player? Luckily, I found someone who does, and paid a small fortune to have tape copied to DVD. (and now, of course, – who owns a DVD player?)

So, back to Christmas. One of our traditions is to make, then decorate, a Christmas cake or two. This year, my daughter and I decide to multi-task as we mould icing figures of snow men and flying kangaroos. We watch hour after hour of scratchy DVD memories as they surface onto the TV screen.

There is my four-year-old little man, in his grandmother’s hand-knitted tan jumper. He holds a drumstick in his hand like a microphone, and cavorts around the floor. He sings to me (and the video recorder), his eyes imploring and insistent.

‘I love my Muuuuuummmmyyyy. I loooooooovvvvvveeee my Muuuummmmyyyy. She is the best, and always will beeeeeeeee’, with a screeched upward inflection.

Oh, is that moisture in my eye? This was my boy, my loving one, my reason for life. I am overjoyed to remember him as he was then. Cheeky, lively, loving, loyal, and always on the move. Never still, ever, not even in his sleep. And I realise that he must still reside inside the gorgeous young man he is today.

In front of me now is my baby girl. I am overwhelmed at how familiar I find her plaintive cry as a newborn, and her hungry mewling as she suckles. She lies on her tummy, a favourite toy just out of her reach. She frowns, she grunts with determination, she growls as she reaches out, determined to touch that treasure. I am transported back a decade, and I am there. Her baby voice has not disappeared from my grey cells, after all.

My grown daughter, despite her protests (she would prefer to listen to her music), is mesmerised by this baby that once was her. She cannot reconcile her young self then with her older self. Can any of us? She is awed.

I gulp as a beautifully familiar voice reaches out to me.

‘Give us a love’, says my grandmother, reaching out her arms to cuddle her adored great-grandchild. I ache to be a child again, to rest my head against my Nanna’s rounded belly, to have her work-roughened hand stroke my head and say ‘It’ll be alright. I know just what to do’.

Where is that life? My grandmother is dead, but my love for her is not.

Another voice chuckles from the speaker. There is my mother, chiacking her grandson. He ducks and weaves around her, and she swivels, trying to catch him. His giggles begin from his boots upwards, and she joins him, the connection between them tangible.

Tears well. My mother is just six months deceased. I had forgotten how deeply attached were grandmother and grandson. I grieve a little. Again.

Now I have a small pile of DVDs plus a mountain of video tapes. Somehow, I just can’t bring myself to say farewell to the tapes. I suspect they will continue to gather dust.

I ask myself – am I too sentimental for my own good? Will I ever be capable of joining the minimalist movement? Of culling and de-cluttering?

Post Christmas. In front of me is a row of big green plastic garbage bags. They bulge softly, rustling as I open them to disgorge years of my children’s clothing, releasing that stale odour of stored items. I am a little embarrassed, as some of this clothing has been living in their bag for over 20 years . . .

I am also a little excited - it’s a bit like an adult treasure hunt.

I pull out item after item, sorting them into piles. One is to give to charity. The other pile? Well, I just have to keep some of those clothes!

Oh look - here are two of my mother’s jumpers, knitted for her grandchild, and there is one from their great-grandmother. And what does this plastic bag contain? Booties galore. Tiny, white, beribboned, multi-coloured, patterned, knitted by my grand-relatives. My heart contracts as I hold a much-loved jumpsuit, so unbelievably tiny. I crush it close, bending my head to smell. Is there any baby fragrance left? I am saddened and dismayed when only a faint must meets my nostrils.

I carefully open a labelled bag. These baby clothes are not my children’s. They are mine. There is my Christening gown, sewn and laced edged by my mother, hand-made satin undergarment nestling within. My hands stroke a terylene baby gown of mine, and I am soothed. Then I am shocked. My husband suggests, seriously, that I send my own baby clothes to a museum. Really – am I that old?

On balance, I am glad I have kept some items for decades. This has been a time of poignant reminders, of moments in our family history. I have winnowed severely. Just a small selection of woven memories remains, to be stored again.

Perhaps, one day, my adult children will be as moved as I was, to look back at their younger selves, and caress tangible items of their childhood and family connections.

Or not.

I will, at least, have left them the choice.

© Larissa Dann. 2018

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