I am moving again. It isn’t a very long move, or a permanent one, but it does involve emptying the closets and taping the boxes back together. Nantucketers get used to moving. We move from one bedroom to another, one apartment to another, one house to another depending on the seasons, the houseguests, or the marital weather gauge. Most islanders have a store of collapsed liquor boxes somewhere in a closet or a garage, ready to spring to action and collect the valuables.
I have moved several times, both by myself and with others. I have found that there are two principal sorts of mover: those that keep and those that throw out. Or, to think of it another way, those that don’t mind carrying lots of extra boxes and those that do. Years ago, some smart-aleck whispered in my ear three cardinal rules: “Travel light, stay low to the ground, and play with your own toys.” As a result, I always begin my moves by picking up a box of contractor sized trash bags.
I haven’t thrown out anything that would make “Antiques Roadshow” or even “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” If anything, most of the bags that make their way to the Take It or Leave It should have made the trip a long time ago. My most recent casualty was a great winter coat that had one more tear beyond what I could ignore. I wore it, as best I could, through the rest of the winter and then consigned it to the big pile of clothes at the Madaket Mall.
No matter how expensive, clothes make their way out the door relatively easily. Legos don’t. Legos sit heaped up in a plastic bucket and sweat out memories. I was the father that kept the instructions and rebuilt the creations when they started to fragment in the high heat of boy-play. I was also the father who bought the superglue so he could repair the Lego Emergency Fire Helicopter permanently. I know that they have moved on to Minecraft and Magic Cards. Just like the Matchbox sets and the Rescue Rangers, before it, the tide has come for the Legos.
The boys loved their underwater Lego base. Lego, like any other corporation, puts out several new lines every November. Some of them are in outer space, some of them are in Lego City, and some of then drop from the movies complete with labels and bar codes. But in one winter, at our Family Peak Lego, the company introduced a line of underwater explorers that had various small submarines, a big submarine that could fire torpedoes and break into smaller submersibles and a gigantic yellow base. All of these were threatened, in the pictures, by a giant squid, some large sharks, and a couple of rough looking pirates. In my house, they were also threatened by some Evil Space Pirates, a Rock Monster, and Dumbledore. For two years, the underwater base became the play center of early mornings and late evenings. Torpedoes were lost and found, submarines were rebuilt, and everything was glued back into place.
Today, years after chaos and entropy have broken the base into pieces that can’t be rebuilt or reglued, time has come for it as well. It sits in the plastic bin, waiting for its trip to the dump.
To throw the Legos out is to acknowledge the harsh truth of time: toys fade. Buzz and Woody need to move on, as does the one tin soldier, and every Webkinz Unicorn, no matter how rare. As parents, we look into the box of Legos, remember how much each set cost, how much joy they produced and then cling to the dream. Have you a house, you could set up a corner of the attic as the little boy playroom, eat Teddy Grahams and sit steeped in memories. Don’t think I haven’t considered it.
Still, the truth is ugly and has grown hair in the usual places. The boy has grown taller than his Dad and is waiting for a ride to Nobadeer. The days won’t wish themselves backwards and settle into quiet and dark winter mornings at the bottom of the sea in a Lego base. Nor would we want them to. If they did, you would miss those summer afternoons when the young man was surfing at Nobadeer. The months of Lego have passed and the days of surfing are nigh. Tomorrow, it will be something else.
My boys will grow into men with interests, passions, and hobbies. Each interest leads to another and then to a major and even, God bless us, a profession. Winter mornings with the Legos will be the foundation for the rest of their lives.
So, on the morning that I sent the Legos off to another lucky little boy, I came across my mother’s ten lobster crackers, with picks. You throw out some things, you keep others.
My mother died almost twenty years ago. She has been at the great celestial clambake for a good long time; I am sure she has gone up for seconds or even thirds, picked up some extra butter and corn on the cob, and is settling back in her beach chair with a glass of white wine or even, since all things are possible in Heaven, a Manhattan straight up. Her lobster crackers came to me after my father sold the family house and moved to an apartment. In that tsunami of memories, photos, wedding dresses, and Christmas ornaments all went into the wave. Yet, the lobster crackers survived.
My mother, up in her celestial beach chair, is biting her lip at the irony. For the lobster moments of my childhood, the crackers made themselves scarce. Instead, the meaty knuckles and claws fell victim to kitchen shears, the bottoms of wine bottles and, on particularly eventful night, a crescent wrench. The crackers were notable by their absence and from the barnyard reverence my mother had for them. Now, they appeared before me and the Salvation Army bag begged for them.
They never made it. Somewhere, out in America, a party planner will leave the Salvation Army poorer for ten lobster crackers and matching picks. Instead, amid the fragments of my life that I still keep with me (including a Bill Lee Rookie Card), I will have those crackers. With my gypsy life, I am unlikely to throw a bug fest for ten. I don’t have my parents’ dining room, lobster pot, or list of friends. My life gets pared down to fit in cardboard boxes and plastic tubs. In time, ten lobster crackers may come in handy. In time, the dining room will expand and we will all sit around a gleaming platter of hot, dead, red lobsters. When we are all seated at the table, and the wine is poured, and the butter melted, those #@$#* crackers will disappear again. Karma is allergic to shellfish.
Still, I kept the crackers for another day and sent away the Legos. It could be that I could still see myself cracking open a lobster while I don’t think I will be rebuilding a submarine. The Legos, no matter how much I spent for them and how much they were loved, are my sons’ stories. They still have more than enough Lego sets to tell that story of their lives, should they wish to.
My mother, however, will tell no more stories. Her life fades as the years and the funerals multiply. Now, without her husband or her house, her stories are left to her children and the relics of her life. They reveal who we were and who she wanted us to become. We were raised by a woman who wanted to have a good time, who wanted to enjoy her friends, and who didn’t mind the mess. She seized life by back, cracked its knuckles, and picked the meat out. Such is the foundation of my life; I was raised by a woman who picked all of the meat out of a lobster that she could.
The tide has taken so much away from us in the last twenty years. We no longer have her Christmas ornaments, her silverware, and her laugh. The fragments we have are all that is left; the stories they tell should remain for one last move.
Bob Barsanti's novel, Milestone Road, was published in 2012. His previously published book of essays about Nantucket, Sand in My Shoes, is available here.
Read his post on the attempted sale of Boy Scout Camp Richard here.
[Photo credit: AmericanFood.about.com]