Like most kids growing up along the coast of Lake Erie, I spent a lot of time at Cedar Point. Before I could drive there were family outings and school trips; after I carpooled with packs of friends or on double dates. I remember the excitement of being tall enough to ride the coasters and the disappointment of being too tall to follow my brothers into kiddie land. But my strongest memory was my inability to win a life-sized stuffed animal.
Believe me, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Cedar Point has a huge section of carnival games and I had a talent for weaseling money out of my father. Getting him to hand over bills for the promise of glory was easy, but winning a game designed to favor the house was hard. A couple of years I ended up with a charity prize, but most years I ended up with nothing.
Until one summer during college when I went with my mother.
Brimming with the positivity of a sunny day and great company I smooth-talked mom to the front of the park. We walked along the booths and after carefully assessing the options I decided on the game: shoot an oversized, lightweight ball at three plastic cups stacked in a pyramid, knock all three cups out of the red circle and you win. Sure, I’d lost a boatload of money playing that same game over the years. Sure, it was a sucker’s game with a $2 buy-in and no prize for second place. I didn’t care, I looked up at the huge prizes hanging there and decided — like every sucker since the dawn of time — that this time was going to be different. I paid my money and fired.
And watched, stunned, as all the cups fell.
Over the years I have enjoyed my fair share of accomplishment and every single one has come after more effort, time and sacrifice. But the crazy thing is that none of them has brought me the palpable excitement that I felt when a young man handed me an oversized Buster Bunny for knocking over a bunch of plastic cups. Carrying that huge stuffed animal around — a bright blue three-foot tall sign that I had done something so few others had done — was thrilling. I didn’t even mind leaving earlier than usual when we realized we couldn’t ride anything with Buster in tow.
I felt a little of that last weekend when I discovered Buster buried under the junk of four generations.
Stuff is complicated. Our society whipsaws us with inconsistent messages. Everywhere we look there are signals that we need to buy more, upgrade more and have more. We measure our success by the size of our homes, the make of our car and the brand of our clothes. But, keep your eyes open long enough and you’ll also see evidence that we should abandon our stuff. Buy a tiny house, donate your old books, and purge your junk drawer.
My stuff is complicated. From my vantage point at my writing desk I can see the pottery my kids made in art class and a child’s rocking chair that my grandmother bought for us kids but managed to sit in as an octogenarian. There’s the box of my grandfather’s marine pins, the custom coaster I made for one of our pinball tournaments and a chalk drawing a friend made of my daughter as a toddler. It’s all so random and yet each and every thing I can see has a story, each item a square in the patchwork of my life.
Over the years these bits and pieces of me have moved from drawer to box, from one room to another. Each time I move them I wonder if I am doing the right thing. Is now the time to let go? I ask myself is this flotsam and jetsam good stuff or bad stuff? Is it sentimentality or scrap? Am I caring or crazy? Will it matter some day when I’m gone and my kids and grandkids try to make sense of it?
Damn if I know.
All I know is that I’m writing this blog on an iPad Pro within inches of a 1949 Royal typewriter. It is one of two my grandmother used in bygone years and I rescued it from the barn the same day I found Buster. We put it in the back of the truck and drove home, more useless stuff that we didn’t need. After cleaning it up and buying a new ribbon I sat down in front of it and my heart swelled thinking of my grandmother. My fingers took on a life of their own, words appearing in ink through the physical force of my love. When it was done I looked down at the bright yellow paper and, eyes blurring with unshed tears, I made a decision.
I’m going to keep it; I’m going to keep all of it.