Posted in Columns

Tonka trucks and tears

Cleaning out the garage can be an emotional experience. I spent Sunday afternoon helping my husband sort through the remaining boxes, crates, bags and other stuff that has been piled in the garage since we moved. He thought it would be nice if we could fit a car or two in the garage, since that would be its original purpose.

While he was involved in sort-ing and alphabetizing his tools and electronic equipment, I started pulling things out of my old toybox. Parked at the bottom were four mud-caked Tonka trucks. I set them outside, hooked up the hose and started spraying them with water to loosen the dirt.

Then I started to cry. Really. My brain took that motherly path from gee-I-remember-when-our-boys-were-little to oh-my-gosh-they’re-graduating-from-high-school-this-year. I could see my sons at three or four sitting on the dump truck, hurtling themselves down the driveway. Now they’re both over six feet tall – I doubt they’ll be riding the dump truck any time soon.

Then there was the time we had a septic system dug at our previous home. The guy was in the yard with his backhoe, working steadily to install the maze of pipes. At the same time, my two boys were playing in the front yard with their trucks, carefully digging their own trenches with a miniature backhoe that loaded sand steadily into the dump truck most of the afternoon.

It’s one of those things about parenting. When the kids are little, you can’t wait till they get big. When they’re big, you wonder how that happened so fast. I almost want to turn the clock back, or at least put it on hold so I can savor each moment – although given human nature, I doubt the savoring would last very long. It would be like final act in Thorton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” in which Emily revisits her 12th birthday after she dies. She watches everyone, especially her mother, hurry through life, not thinking, not really taking it in. Finally it is too much, and she returns to her seat in the graveyard, frustrated and disappointed.

I try hard not to hold on to things, so we won’t be buried in endless clutter. But there are some objects that bring up so many memories, I just can’t part with them. I’m not sure whether my boys care if we saved their Tonka trucks or not; however, they will be parked in their plastic bin garage in the basement until someone wants to play with them. My old toybox with its scratched paint and faded circus images will sit and wait. My dad made the box for my sister and I, and every time I look at it I can see the two of us pulling out every toy we owned so we could climb in and sail off on some sort of imaginary adventure. It’s a simple box, but even as it stands empty, I see it as full because of the memories it holds.

Who knew cleaning the garage could become such an emotional experience. All we really wanted was a place to park the cars. Instead, I took a trip through time.




I'm a writer, editor, photographer and artist living in rural Southeastern Wisconsin. I grew up in Chicago, made my way to the deep woods of Northern Minnesota and then landed here among the cornfields and cows. It's quite simply my happy place.

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