My parents are preparing to move into an apartment after more than 50 years in their home. This means they are dealing with the three rules of real estate: location, location, what are we going to do with all this stuff?
My mother is a methodical woman, and when I was home with my siblings this summer, she produced a list of items that she thought we might want to claim: old phone, juicer, chopper, egg beater, 3-monkeys ornament, ivory fish fork – they were like clues in one of those I Spy puzzles – marbles, View Master, coffee pot with warmer, beaded evening bag, glass doorknob…
I was especially intrigued by the entry marked “handkerchiefs?” What else could they be? But in the end I didn’t call dibs. If anything, the list served as a warning: stuff accumulates.
Since the summer, the sorting and the purging has been ongoing. My parents are in their mid-eighties, so this is not a speedy process, though my trusty brother Andrew has been around to tote that barge, lift that juicer. All of this is happening simultaneously with viewings, meaning the house must be as pristine as can be. Mom, however, has found a great place to stash the transitional clutter: inside the dryer.
Most recently, she’s been tackling the closets, and she phoned to let me know that she had come across an old friend of mine: Doggie.
Doggie was a green, corduroy beagle with floppy ears, a sort of blend between Snoopy and Finnigan from “Mr. Dressup.” He and I were inseparable. I had to have Doggie with me everywhere I went. If not, I might bang my head against the stairs, which had plastic treads that left little indents in my forehead. But that’s an embarrassing formative trauma for another time.
“Do you want him?” Mom asked.
I chuckled. “No, I think I can do without Doggie. But send me a picture.”
She had also uncovered Andrew’s favourite stuffed animal, Pussycat. Yes, Doggie and Pussycat. Believe it or not, Andrew and I were the creative children in the family.
When Andrew was 5, he had to undergo an operation, and Pussycat came along. Even back then my brother was an insomniac, and during the night, while poking Pussycat (sounds ruder than it is, folks), he worried a hole in the fabric and discovered what it was stuffed with: pantyhose. What does a 5-year-old do with pantyhose? Puts it over his head, naturally! Somewhere there’s a retired nurse still recovering from the night she did her rounds and shone her flashlight on that Murray boy.
It was my brother who sent me the photos of Doggie and Pussycat. Poor Doggie. Not looking good. Whatever fur was once on him had been worn off, and his back has been reinforced with a dark patch of fabric. His head hangs on by mere threads. As with living creatures, there’s not much reinforcing you can do to stave off decapitation.
When I told my siblings that I had declined to take Doggie, Andrew wrote, “Oh Rossy, of course you have to have him and keep him,” and then he reminded me what a comfort Doggie must have been after he (Andrew, not Doggie) smashed me over the head with an ashtray and Dr. Carroll wrapped my head in a bandage like I was a casualty of the American Civil War. He (Andrew, not Dr. Carroll) also shoved a garden stake up my nose, but that’s a tale of sibling bloodletting for another time.
I purged a lot of old papers and photos when I visited this past summer. Some of them were tough to get rid of – little pieces of my childhood, tiny scraps of me. But I had to ask myself, what would I do with them? Where would they go if I brought them home? They’d just be one more thing I’ll have to sort when we too must move out of this house. And I don’t take inventory like Mom.
But now that I’ve seen the picture of Doggie, no longer as a concept but as an object, it’s hard to stomach the idea of him ending up in the trash. I don’t think I ever interacted with him; I think he just made me feel safe, like a security blanket or a handkerchief(?). But still, shouldn’t sentiment sometimes win?
Surprisingly, my wife thinks I should keep him. She says he can be a companion to the childhood companion she still has, a stuffed yellow bear.
His name is Yellow Bear.