When I was in high school, I took an AP British Literature course for which our teacher assigned us a creative project. We had make a mask representing our identity in the context of a story we were studying. Being an aspiring artist, I bought some plaster and a facial mold, creating the surefire concoction that would win me a good grade. After leaving it alone for a few days, I returned to take it out of the cast for decoration. Sure enough, the mold had taken form, but the plaster was very soft and crumbly in the back. One wrong touch and the whole thing would collapse. My teacher kept the masks until the end of the year, when she returned them to us. It’s been sitting in my room ever since.
After dividing Thanksgiving between two parts of my family, I went home to clean up my room before Christmas Week. This is the only time during the year that I have the opportunity to stay at home and visit, so it needs a touch-up periodically. Mom doesn’t mess with my room, despite its vacancy, and as such it has become a museum to the past.
Because I stay there once a year, it’s become a sort of dumping ground for things I don’t need. These include:
- A fine assortment of 3 1/2 Inch Floppy Disks
- Puka Necklaces from my “Surfer Dude” years
- Boy Scout Neckerchiefs
- My first cell phone, a Nokia Brick
- Boomshekleka. a South American, Papier-mâché God, created by my 7th grade imagination
- An empty case of beer (Bud Light) from my rebellious “I’m cool! I’m in high school and drink!” stage
- Whitey-Tighties from Elementary School
- 1999 Band Member of the Year trophy
- A McCloud Class of 2006 Chocolate Bar
The list continues. You see, at one point in my life, each of these things meant something different to me than they do today.
Over Thanksgiving Dinner, my Nana recalled a family Bible that sits in her Cedar Chest, where she keeps all of her most prized belongings. This Bible marched across the country with her Grandfather during the Civil War, only to be returned to the family after he was killed in combat. As she began to reminisce about her life, she reminded us that she is the last person in her family lineage. After she dies, the tree doesn’t go out any further. That Bible doesn’t hold the same meaning as it did 150 years ago.
As I began to clean, there were programs, newspapers, pictures, and magazines from years gone past, and I wondered if it meant anything, or if they were just things that had begun to accumulate on my dresser. Would someone still care about any of it 150 years from now? As I began to move one of the piles, I bumped into the mask from high school. It crashed to the floor and split in half, with no hope of restoration. It’s soft and crumbly you see, because it never did settle.
Perhaps this is the great holiday tragedy, as we lift our cups to friends and family on Thanksgiving, we prepare to shop ’til we rot, cycling back and forth every year, revisiting the stuff that once meant something to us.
Generally, we’re soft and crumbly people, putting on a nice front while falling apart under the surface. Then one day, when we can look back further than we can see ahead, the only thing that’s left is what these things meant to us, because there’s no one left to understand their purpose.
Because no matter how hard we try, eventually, everything breaks.