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They were just dusty old boxes

I couldn’t put it off any longer. If I waited another week or two, I’d be cooped up in the house instead of spending my time out in the garden, mucking around in the warming soil, preparing for flowers and veggies. With winter nearly at an end, it was time to force myself to perform the dreaded rarely-annual spring cleaning.

Up until now, I’d managed to get out of digging through the boxes of paperwork that had been a fire hazard for several years since we’d closed our construction business. My reasons were very creative, and Rick had always grudgingly gone along with them until this year. Over the years he’s gotten pretty sneaky when he wanted me to go along with one of his schemes, and this time he really had me over the barrel. He dangled the most compelling bribe possible under my nose: a page from Better Homes and Gardens showing a Martha-Stewart-like sewing room. He promised he’d help me turn the attic into my own special place and all I had to do was empty it out.

That photo was my dream come true. It showed a sun-filled nook painted in happy contrasting colors. Pretty wicker baskets brimming with neatly folded fabric. A glossy white pegboard, every little tool and spool in place, complemented the equally glossy bookcase full of cutesy/crafty supplies. A long, smooth cutting table ran along the wall under a window draped with a pristine cotton curtains, decorated with hand-appliquéd flowers. It really wasn’t fair. Who could resist that dream? A dream which would, without a doubt, turn out unattainable in the end. But at the time it seemed so easy to replicate. All I had to do was make it look like the picture. And how could it not be an improvement, since at this stage my current sewing room was a hall closet?

With visions of a glamorous photo-shoot staring me and my even-better-than-Martha’s sewing room in my head, I forced myself, steps dragging, up the narrow, dark stairs to the attic and opened the door. Immediately I was hit with the aroma of stale air, dust and, dare I think, mouse droppings? A seemingly endless sea of file boxes, some half-crushed under the weight of others, filled the small space. The tiny window which only vaguely resembled the one in my dream photo was crusted with dust and the bodies of unlucky bugs who had fallen prey to spiders before they, too, found themselves trapped in an airless, enclosed space and gave up the ghost.

A dramatic sigh was wasted on myself and accomplished nothing more than a coughing fit. For a moment I closed my eyes and imagined I was standing in that Martha-Stewart-like sewing room. But a loud and very wet sneeze completely spoiled the effect.

Girding my loins (whatever that means) I lugged the dusty boxes, one by one, to our seldom-used dining room. By the time the attic was empty it was time for a cold drink and an antihistamine. An hour later (hey, I’m a slow drinker, OK?) I sat on the floor and opened the first box. What I expected to find was a mish-mash of old invoices, catalogues from a distant decade, and correspondence to and from long-forgotten clients. What I hoped I didn’t find was anything furry with four legs, alive or dead. What I found was something completely different.

The very first file I opened held several year’s-worth of report cards for my now-grown children. I read the comments with smiles and grimaces; shaking my head at the oft-repeated “does not work to ability.” Mixed in with pretty much indecipherable writing assignments were photographs of small boys in very large football pads, grinning around missing teeth. Paper ornaments shed their remnants of glitter all over the place.

I think of those boys now—tall, strapping men with homes of their own and a couple grandchildren who will soon be following in their footsteps, and I couldn’t help but smile even wider. I found the dust affecting me again as I sniffed back a few tears.

The next box held the expected detritus of our long-closed business. But instead of being an annoying waste of time I found myself recalling the projects – simple and extravagant. The clients – good and bad. And the challenges which Rick and I overcame in the name of making sure we got a paycheck that month. Those were lean years, with small children, long hours, and miniscule budgets. But those lean years taught us lessons that we, and our children, still use today.

We discovered you didn’t need to go on an expensive vacation to have fun. We made do with cheap camping trips in tents, cooking over the fire and telling ghost stories in the dark. There were times rain came down in buckets. Others when we slept on ground that had more rocks than soil and it was so cold outside that we all cuddled together playing silly card games. Those days are something we laugh over and reminisce about when we get together. We never thought we suffered for the lack of money, or were unfortunate because we didn’t have what others did. We enjoyed our spontaneous drives to cool mountain meadows for Sunday afternoon hot-dog roasts just because the weather was nice. Those were treats we worked hard to fit in to our always-busy schedules.

Another box contained long-forgotten photos. My great grandmother, grandmother, mother, myself and my firstborn – a five generational photos that had been casually stuck in a shoebox during those hectic years and might have been lost forever had Martha not inspired me.

I was still buried in boxes late that evening when Rick came home. I was so intent on rummaging through my next treasure chest that I didn’t even notice him standing there until he gave a loud, heart-stopping throat clearing. He told me he hadn’t seen the look of wonder on my face since the day our last child was born.

It took me another day to get through the boxes because I made sure I went through every file and looked at every page. I couldn’t bear the thought that I might miss something. That I might not have the chance to remember that one special moment the next piece would recall.

But they were just dusty old boxes.

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