Lum: Sorting through the shack
A few months ago I received an email from Jennifer Coultas, of the Boonton, N.J., Historical Society, seeking information about Mabel and Cedric Head and their Kingsland Marionette show.
My parents bought our house from Mabel and Cedric in 1939, and they lived behind us in a smaller place when they weren’t “on the road” in their big truck carrying the equipment for “the world’s largest traveling marionette show.” To me, they lived such a life of romance and adventure that they might as well have been pirates on the high seas.
Mabel died when I was 12, and before Cedric remarried, I got to travel that road myself as a gofer and sub-assistant. I was even let out of school for a few days at a time, and I was in heaven.
I loved everything about the shows and being backstage, and Cedric was my Wizard of Oz — took us to see “Streetcar Named Desire” (no need to mention it to my parents) and told marginal jokes (Larry and Harry visit a whorehouse and Larry says, “’arry, we’ve got to change ‘ores — between the fog and the grog I got me aunt ‘arriet!”).
Whenever anything went wrong, we (Cedric, the real assistant and I) would chorus, “between the fog and the grog …” I digress.
What Jennifer was looking for was a photograph of Mabel, and she had come to the right person because I had a Christmas card sent to my parents in the ’40s, a photo of Mabel and Cedric on the bridge of their stage, clearly showing their faces and their hands holding the controls of a couple of marionettes. I told Jennifer I wasn’t absolutely sure where it was, but I was sure I could find it.
If I’d had to make a bet, my bet was that the card was in one of the seven drawers of a small desk in my living room, the repository for old photographs, financial records long overdue for the trash and miscellaneous who-knew-what. With confidence, I attacked the drawers and filled a garbage bag with detritus, but came up empty-handed. Damn.
Onward into the oxygen room’s two large file drawers containing a bit of everything, then to the bureau (seven drawers) and four more file drawers in my office, after which I started to feel a little bit frantic.
In the course of the search, I opened one Pandora’s box of memories after another, from my grade-school report cards (and some of my parents’ and grandparents’) to my daughters’ early artwork, manuscripts, journals flying up like locusts out of those drawers — some laughing, some weeping, some screaming. Canyon trips, divorce papers, Aspen Times memorabilia, tragic high school poetry, scrapbooks and photos, photos, photos, but no Christmas card from the Heads.
Into the plastic tubs in my closet, the boxes in the living room closet, the boxes under the bed. Love letters from my parents, medical records from Dr. Crandall, a picture of my mother as a baby in a dog cart with a dog in harness (at 99 my mother woke up, saying, “I had a dream that I was riding in a dog cart” and here it was). I felt as if I were being flung about in a time machine.
In the midst of all of this, when I was organizing my taxes, I couldn’t find three important pieces of paper that I had in my hand not five minutes before, a slice of irony that wasn’t lost on me. I might find that Christmas card (I haven’t yet), but what was the point of going through all that stuff if I wouldn’t have a clue where any of it was five minutes later?
On the other hand, it’s good to go through all of your crap every few decades, and being on a mission is the best impetus I know of.
Su Lum is a longtime local who refuses to admit defeat yet. There is always the attic. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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