Texas girl in the middle of Kiwiana

Amy Boatman

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The Things We Keep

I have moved several times in my life. Each time, I’ve had varying degrees of stuff. When I first left my parents home, everything I owned fit in my little Ford Pinto station wagon. Over the years, I accumulated more things but it seems that every time I moved, I got rid of a lot. By the time I got married, the two of us had a bunch of stuff. We have furniture, dishes, linens, cookware, pictures, knick knacks. All manner of things. Now since my granny died, I also have a set of china and some crystalware. We plan on getting rid of lots of this stuff but I think we’re still going to end up with more than we think we will.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that one box we all seem to carry from place to place. Everyone has it. The box (or whatever you use to store it in) that contains those things we don’t really need anymore but just can’t seem to get rid of. Every once in a while, usually when moving, we open up that box and take a walk through memory lane. That’s the real purpose for that box, after all. It’s not that we want to keep these things per se. It’s that we don’t want to forget the times these items represent.

I have decided to get rid of my box. I’m moving to Seattle. Opening a new chapter in my life. Making the biggest move of my life. Now is a good time to leave that box behind. It is an odd assortment of random items collected over the past 39 years.

There’s the Budman. He was the superhero that Budweiser came up with in the late 60s/early 70s. He’s a funny looking man with a jaw bigger than Jay Leno and menacing dark eyes. His Nerf-material body wears painted on red, white, and blue clothes. Around his neck is a stiff plastic red cape. Chunks have been gouged out of his arms and nose from the many years spent bouncing around in this box with the other paraphernalia of my youth. He smells like burnt insulation and crackles when you press too hard. Why have I kept him? When I was born, my father delivered beer for Budweiser. His occupation listed on my birth certificate is Keg Man. So, Budman represents that part of my childhood when my father still brought me gifts. The time before he turned away and found himself a new family. 

There’s a brown intricately carved jewelry box. I think it belonged to my great-grandmother but then again we may have gotten it at a garage sale when I was a kid. I don’t remember. It once had a lock but I lost the key and had to twist it off. Inside are notes passed from the hands of my friends while I was in high school. The majority of them are just “Mrs. Laird is sooo boring” and “Billy is soo cute” type notes. A few of them deal with darker, heavier issues. “My dad got drunk and hit Mom again last night. Can I stay at your house?” “I think I might be pregnant. Will you go to the doctor with me?” There’s also notes from a boy I thought I liked. We were discussing going to some dance. That was when I was trying to fit in and pretend I liked boys instead of admitting the truth: I liked my friends a whole lot more. Why have I kept these notes? Maybe because they represent an innocence I have since lost. They are the musings of children who no longer exist. I’m not the same girl who read those notes secretively under the desk, trying to keep the teacher from seeing. That girl has since been lost or perhaps sloughed off by the emerging adult I became. Maybe that is why I keep the notes. To remind myself of who I once was. 

Down at the bottom of the box is a sticker. It’s red with white and blue lettering. Inside the shape of Texas are the words “Emergency Medical Technician.” I bought this sticker at the cop shop in Austin. The store had a locked security door with a camera mounted at the top. I hit the red call button then held up my ID to the camera. A low buzz indicated I had been chosen to enter. Once inside, the aroma of gun oil was almost over powering. A glass enclosed room contained more rifles and handguns than I had ever seen in one place. Off to the left were racks of clothes, boots, and bullet proof vests. Over to the right were shelves full of leather or vinyl accessories for the well dressed cop. Amongst all these bristling symbols of authority, I found the two sets of shelves I came looking for. Here was the medic gear. Scissors, little flashlights, trauma shears, and Spanish to English translation books filled the shelves. A plastic bin contained the sticker I had coveted for over a year. I pulled out my prize and took three of them to the counter. “I just got my EMT yesterday,” I proudly proclaimed to the heavyset, sweaty man behind the counter. “Well good for you, little lady,” he told me in a big, booming voice. Back outside, I cleaned off the upper right corner of my back windshield and placed my sticker there for all to see. I was so proud, it’s a wonder I didn’t burst. That was 1990. I went on to become a paramedic and work for Austin EMS. It was my dream. Now, the dream having ended in disillusionment and resentment, I’ve decided to get rid of that sticker. It’s a symbol of a world I once believed in but now see doesn’t really exist. Or maybe it’s that my idea of that world wasn’t realistic in the first place. Either way, the sticker has no place in my life anymore. 

Do any of us really need to keep that box? Is it useful to have these reminders of days long gone or is it a weight that keeps us mired in the past? I’d have to say, at least for myself, it’s a little of both. Sometimes I like to be reminded that I once thought who was going to be chosen homecoming queen was important. That I had such small cares at one time. Another part of me wants to cut all that adrift. Let it become one of those amorphous images that occasionally flutters into my conscious. 

I love metaphors and this box is one of the greatest metaphors of my life. This is all the stuff I’ve been carrying around. All the joy and happiness but also all the heartache, longing, hardship, and pain. I think it’s time to empty the box. Everything I need is held inside my heart. Everything else is just excess baggage.