Nantucket Essays

Storing Life

~by Robert P. Barsanti ~

You know who you are in a storage locker. When you open the padlock and the shutter goes up, all is laid out in front of you at the cost of $125 a month. Every one that I never became is stacked and stored in 10 X 12 fluorescent space.

My storage locker holds hundreds of books. They were organized by genre and by author, with the idea that somehow I was going to need all of the James Bond books sometime in the future, along with a thorough collection of Isaac Asimov science books. There is a crib, there is a changing table, there is a stroller; somehow it seemed as if I might have more kids and would need them.

Mostly, I have big wooden articles of furniture in my storage locker. I am paying to save the things that I couldn’t touch or open when I was a child. I have my parent’s breakfront, my mother’s dresser (with mirror) and an eight-foot long buffet, among other Hitchcock furniture treasures. They sleep standing in the corner next to three box mattresses and four boxes of tax returns.

I don’t get to lead my parents’ lives. Their middle class struggle has retreated into just being a slog in the twenty-first century. I don’t have a house large enough for the relics of the lives, nor do I have the family to need them. At the same time, I remember how much my parents valued this stuff and my knuckles still bark with the affection my mother shared with me over her Waterford glasses.

Storage lockers hold all the people you think you should be, but aren’t. You store it because you think there will be a time, sometime in the far off future when it will happen for you. Or, failing that, you store it because you have accepted that your life will never have space for these things but, with luck, the kids may need it.

Still, I can’t imagine that either of my boys will want their grandfather’s desk moved into their dorm room. My mother envisioned a time when she would, with some Lace Curtain Irish grace, allow me to set up a house with some of her treasures just as she “inherited” some furniture from her parents. Time out ran her. I hope my boys can live in a world with a breakfront in the living room and a six-foot wide dresser in the bedroom.

My boys may be homeowners when they are forty in 2040. I know as much about that year as my parents knew about the year 2000. For my parents, the new millennium was a far off land where space ships launched for Jupiter and the moon left earth orbit (Space 1999). To me, the year 2000 came with diapers, Dora the Explorer, and the bubble. It did not come with a bedroom set.

Forty will come to my boys late and soon. Their playing days will be behind them, they will be watching their carbs, and they won’t be getting enough sleep. This has been true for centuries. Forty will come to them in a world that I regret to imagine. It will be a warmer world. It will be a more crowded world. It will be amore technical world. It will be a world staffed and operated by everyone who rides a school bus today.

Those buses wait until September to roll on Nantucket. Nantucket has a very civilized opening to the school year; the students stay working with their parents until the season breaks at Labor Day, and then they return to school. School, God bless it, is the most conservative institution we have. Every teacher works in her own storage locker. Teachers and principals teach those things that were important to them back in the day. They hope that that geometry, vocab quizzes, and SAT prep will light someone else’s way as well. And they might. Perhaps our tropical future will need the word “arboreal” and “conflagration.”

I don’t know what furniture I should keep for them, and I am not really sure what they need to be taught. Out of all of the classes I took in high school, typing might have been the most useful and it was the one that I got thrown out of with extreme prejudice. My intimate knowledge of the IBM Selectric lasted exactly two years into college when I was introduced to the Digital “Rainbow 100” computer and Microsoft Word.

My teachers wanted me to succeed. To them, touch typing was a life skill as important as driving. These things were to buoy me up, not tie me down. My parents kept all of this furniture because it was a life they wanted to hand down to me. They wanted the life of bureaus, dressers, and buffets to support a stable life of family, friends, and Thanksgiving dinners. And I kept them because I wanted to have some of that life myself, even though that world has slipped of into the tide. At this point, the only fragments of that life is stacked up in this room.

I should get rid of it all and spend the money on scratch tickets. Too many of my days have been spent staring into someone else’s mirror trying to fill someone else’s furniture, be it my parent’s or my own. Somewhere out there, at the far reach of the Salvation Army, someone can find a better use for a breakfront and a buffet other than to serve my ghosts. The last thing my kids need is to drag the shadow of these expectations into the watery future. I’ll leave them the cookbooks and the rain coats. And the Diaper Genie.

Articles by Date from 2012