A Treasure Box of Memories and Chicken Bones


Whenever I come home to visit my parents, Mom wants me to help her unload the stuff she’s managed to collect in the 37 years they’ve lived in their house–stuff that she “may need one day.” Last Christmas, we tackled her five closets of clothes. It was a cacophony of “timeless pieces” that Mom couldn’t part with; most items Mom would defend by saying, “But I never even wore it!”

“That doesn’t make it okay,” I’d say, snatching the jade polyester pantsuit complete with double D-sized shoulder pads from her hands.

There were the boxes of black and white photos of family members we never knew, a closet of frightening porcelain ballerinas and swans and stacks of new candles, potpourri and tea that Mom collected just in case she needed a present at the last minute.

Based on the tea’s expiration date, Mom hasn’t needed a last-minute gift since 1992.

But it’s not entirely Mom’s fault. Admittedly, I’ve made some contributions, too–in the form of wedding china (an entire set that one day will look very nice if I ever pass through my Danish modern phase and embrace Victorian). And Mom has kept every Mother’s Day card I’ve ever written on, every report card I ever received and every tooth I’ve ever lost.

I’m not as sentimental. “Toss ‘em,” I said to Mom. She made a point of tossing a few cards in the garbage but snuck some baby teeth into the front pocket of her pants. “Mom!”

But even I draw the line somewhere.

“You can’t get rid of that!” I screamed, grabbing the alien costume I wore when I was five.

“I don’t think it still fits,” Mom said.

Pffffft. It’s still cool.

I can remember Mom taking my sister and me in our costumes to the roller rink for a Halloween party–but she had the wrong day. No one was dressed up. Other kids pointed and laughed at us as we skated around the rink, biting through our lower lips and wiping away hot tears. But it was worth all the pre-Halloween humiliation when the actual day rolled around; those handmade costumes were that cool.

Today Mom sifted through our box of costumes–a collection of capes, ill-fitting shoes and wigs, one with chicken bones tied into it. From the contents of that box we transformed into pirates, genies, geishas, witches, bikers, hookers, aliens, farmers, Madonna, Cleopatra look-alikes and cavewomen (hence the chicken-bones). Being boxed up and stashed in the attic for the better part of my life, the contents of the box smelled musty. And I’m pretty sure they’re haunted.

But those costumes instantly took me back to some of my best childhood memories. Each Halloween, we’d haul out the box and come up with that year’s costume. It was a ritual and one I’m not quite ready to give up.

Ava thought she hit the jackpot when she caught sight of the alien costume. And the Marilyn wig. And the beads. And the glittery tube top that she repurposed as a bubble skirt. She spent the afternoon adopting new personas and trying out new looks. In the end, Mom parted with a couple of stray chicken bones, but the majority of the box remained. Our reason? “We may need that one day.”

Unlike potpourri and stale tea, this stuff has real use. Watching my daughter joyfully step into my costumes was like stepping back in time. I saw myself in her, complete with green hood and bobble antennae. Will we ever really need this stuff one day? Yes. In fact, we needed it today.



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