In Robin’s Basement

by Alissa

Yes, a jar of pickles that has been on the shelf longer than I have walked the earth.

We crossed most of America last week, resting and eating and sharing fragments of life with friends and family in Toledo, Frankfort, Des Moines, St. Paul, Billings, Stevensville, Missoula, Bitterroot Lake, and now finally Kalispell. The Jetta, engine light aglow for the last 8 months, still runs! We hit 180,000 miles somewhere near Pompeys Pillar, MT, shortly after Octavia announced that, “The air smells good here!” And it does. A sweet, familiar smell of maple trees, sunshine, and snow-melt clear lake water. I spent most of my childhood here, university years, and many summer since. It is good to be home.

Ace leaves this Saturday for Australia, which I don’t like to think about, but which loads our time here with a sense of urgency in contrast to the sweet slowness of sunny lake days and long-lit evenings of summer in Montana. Octavia and I are sticking around for the next six weeks to be present at my brother’s wedding. Last Saturday we walked the farmers’ market in Missoula, embracing old friends, eating cherry tomatoes, and lusting after tables of glowing carrots and beets and leeks that will keep growing and nourishing other families, but not ours. Now the days and hours we have together are running out–slipping through our fingers a little faster than usual.

One of our projects this week is to sort through a wall of boxes of old things we stacked in Ace’s father figure’s basement six years ago. Robin’s storage room forms the underbelly of a rambling house filled with beautiful old things. He hosts a large collection of Western art and taxidermy, a barn full of would-be classic vehicles (mid-’80s Cadillacs, among others), and sometimes unintended antiquities, such as the leftover Y2K supplies and uneaten garden preserves of the last 30 years (see photo above) that rest on shelves adjacent to our box pile.

I used to come visit and clean out the fridge and cupboards of expire things: Bags of dead lettuce. Mayonnaise best before last summer. Candy from three Christmases ago. Then I decided the contents of these shelves were a kind of installation that I didn’t have the heart to dismantle. How much poorer would I be without the shock of pleasure and thrill of disgust of finding spices from a grocery store that folded 15 years ago? Just how good were the green tomato pickles of 1980? I’m not ready to find out, but I’m not ready to give up on the possibility of being able to.

Now Ace and Octavia are out running errands, and I’m sitting down here in the cool stillness of the storage room, facing my collection of childhood photos, old textbooks and clothing, and deciding what to keep, what to give up, what to try to take to Australia. I’m wearing clothes I would have worn 10 years ago–in fact, clothes I did wear 10 years ago–do Levi’s ever really go out of style? Mmmm, probably.

In the morass of this room of old things, handling these mostly forgotten objects, how do I remember who I was without being paralyzed by the glaring problem of deciding what to do with it now?