Summer 2010: Healing the heart


That's my dad's handwriting, his saws and his wrapping job. It's all him.


The Hamilton printers cabinet. It has space for 16 drawers, right now I only have three. It has a property tag on it from "Iowa State College" which has been Iowa State University since about 1959.


One of the drawers, with hand writing labels for each letter. Yes, I have some metal type, too.


I carried this lunch box for years — but I'm sure the Thermos broke after the first week. Remember that awful sound of broken glass when you dropped your lunchbox?

Play Doh machines

Play Doh Fun Factory machines.

One of the goals of my road trip was to retrieve some items that were saved from my childhood home in Des Moines. When we moved Mom out to Phoenix, where my brothers are, I was working in New York City and had no room for these things, but I didn’t want them thrown out. I don’t remember if my brothers yelled at me for all the things I had them save, but they probably should have. Maybe they knew something that I didn’t at that time: you can’t control an emotional heart. You can’t rationalize with it. You just have to let it run its course.

The two things I remembered saving were a printers cabinet that my dad “acquired” and my old comic books. I wasn’t expecting this other stuff.

As I unpack them now, I’m alternating between laughing and crying. The fun and funny stuff included my Archies lunch box, in amazing condition, and two Play Doh Fun Factory machines, with seemingly all the pieces.

I laughed at the stupid little 10-compartment plastic chest full of tiny screws and rivets that I’ll never use and could have bought new for just a few bucks. And the two paint brushes, a combined value of maybe $3. Two hammers, some old canisters and a few saws were in the box, too.

But new screws and hammers wouldn’t have been my dad’s screws and hammers. New saws don’t come wrapped in brown butcher paper with his hand writing on it.

My dad died when I was 22 and there are many ways in which I try to hold onto the memories. He was a salvager and scavenger, and I loved that about him. I loved exploring in “his world” — the basement of our house. After he died, I would sometimes spend hours down there, just sitting, looking at all the stuff he had acquired in his 59 years. Scrap pieces of wood (he made into sculptures.) Boxes of matches. Reams and reams of discarded paper (he made that into scrap paper books.) More nails and screws than one carpenter would use in a lifetime, all stored in salvaged baby food jars.

Now this is all I have left. There’s no going back to the house in Des Moines and there’s nothing left stored at my brother’s house.

I wasn’t expecting, nor was I ready for this realization.


9 responses to “Summer 2010: Healing the heart

  1. Oh Karen. These are precious memories.

  2. I think it’s wonderful that you saved all these things and that you have so many special things of your father’s. My mother died when I was 16 and I know exactly how you feel about finding something as seemingly inconsequential as a bit of paper with handwriting on it can be so moving. A few of my greatest treasures are scrapbooks she made when she was about my age that I found as I was gathering up stuff from my childhood home to take to my first apartment.

  3. Karen,

    Thank you for writing this. It’s a great reminder of when my grandparents passed away and my dad took his war medals into our house. They were on the wall of the back bedroom of my grandparents’ house…what was uncle Tim’s room before he moved out. It became a TV room where my grandpa could watch with headphones plugged into the TV. Actually it was one headphone with a long, twisted cord and a single earpiece…kind of like an IFB.
    The medals were on the wall along with a few photos from Korea.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    In a totally less serious note: I totally miss my play-doh fun factory, and you must have been a well-behaved kid to have a lunch box in such good shape.

  4. the saws are very cool but you notice how much my writing looks like Dad’s!

  5. Nice..
    These photos look just like I imagined from stories you told.
    (But you never mentioned The Archies. I think you should put it back into service.)

  6. Everyone, thank you for your comments. Sounds like some good memories were brought out as you read this.

  7. This is a cool subject. I love to look at my mother’s old recipes. I have a notebook with her handwritten pages. The ink on the pages has faded and the paper has yellowed with age. Some pages are butter stained But just looking at them takes me instantly back to happy times, standing on a step stool, next to Mom. Leaarning the basics of cooking, like how to level off the top of the cup while measuring sugar and flour. How to break eggs and not get shell in the dough. And of course sneaking samples of chocolate chips when she wasn’t looking. My Dad’s garage has the same effect…just the faint smell of grease/oil reminds me of running to hug my dad, a mechanic, when came home from work. He’d pick me up and give me a big squeeze. My nose against his chest, I remember inhaling the smells of his work…it made me feel safe.

  8. Nose against dad’s chest,
    inhaling smells of his work,
    it made me feel safe.

    Is this Haiku? Now look what you’ve started!


  9. When my dad died in 07, almost exactly one year after mom died, my brother, sister and I went through all the stuff in the house. It was an odd, hard time because I lived in only one house from birth to leaving for college. There were many material things to pour over, talk about, reminisce on, but more profound, more intense than all the items, small and large, valuable and less valuable, was the vast emptiness I felt when it was all out. I felt this completely irrational desire to start over, to make our family what it wasn’t, to experience the childhood I didn’t, to produce the happiness that eluded us all those years. The one thing that struck me most as I left for last time was the giant oak tree in the front year, the one that shed all the fall leaves I used to roll in. With my arms wrapped around it, I can still reach only a third of the way of its circumference. The one funny thing from the parents’ safety deposit box, the chihuahua’s birth certificate, listing both birth parents’ names and original purchase info.

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