I am not sure how many of us were freefalling it in the back of the station wagon. At least four of us, maybe five. Us cousins. The children of my father and his identical twin brother, just hanging out – zipping along the highway doing 85, tumbling around in the back of the truckster with nary a seatbelt – or seat – in sight. I am reasonably certain that the back hatch window was lifted and propped open also.
1977. The year of living dangerously.
It was a nice, bright sunny day. I was 9 years old, all the cousins younger than me, all of us without a care in the galaxy.
We had been prepped for this outing for a while by the twin fathers. We were going to see a space movie. Really, the twin fathers were in this for themselves and we were just tagging along for the ride in the accidental-death-and-dismembermentmobile.
The point is we were going and we were all excited.
This was not the first movie I had seen, but it is the first movie I truly remember seeing.
I remember the opening. The blackness of space. The gazillions of stars. The introduction of the saga drifting off into infinity. My father reading the words aloud and saying to himself “That is so cool…that it’s a long, long time ago”. I remember saying “No, this is the future.” And he whispered excitedly “No, it’s not. It’s a long, long time ago”. Huh? And without the rest of the world even knowing it I experienced my very first mind-fuck at that very instant.
During the ride back afterward, crammed in the back of the wagon and hopped up on the speedball we had just seen, we were all already fighting over who would get to play each character when we got home. The music kept playing in my head. That music – one of the best movie overtures ever.
Later that night I would write in chicken scratch in my diary with a worn down pencil, “That was the best movie I have ever seen in my WHOLE life”.
Whenever one of my parents would go to the White Hen on 79th street, my sister and I would shout “Get me something, okay!” Which of course meant, bring me some candy okay? Or we would beg to go with them.
One night my Mom took me, and I went straight for the candy. And maybe a Tiger Beat, depending on who was on the cover. If it was Leif Garrett I was in. Shaun Cassidy I was out.
Over by the candy, I saw them. I got really excited and brought three packs over to my mother at the counter. Please can I get one or all of them? I got one.
I got in the car, opened it up immediately, shoved the chalky, steel-hard gum in my mouth and rifled through the cards. They were shiny and stuck together from the newness.
And there were stickers too! Oh that was so cool.
From that point on me and The Hen were BFFs. More…needed more.
Over and over and over and over I would go through this same ritual. Sometimes it was very disappointing because I would get duplicates. Lots of duplicates. I would give some of those away, or trade them with other nerds.
But once in a while, I’d get the mac-daddy I had been coveting. And when I had them all, I started over.
I kept them all meticulously lined up in the left-hand corner of the bottom drawer of my dresser. For years. And years. And more years…grade school, high school, college. I loved them. I would keep them forever.
After graduating from college in 1990 and going out on my own in 1991, my parents decided that after 18 years it was time to move out of my childhood home. I went back to pack and it was a bittersweet day for all of us. My sister and I went into the basement with my parents and started reminiscing about all the good, no…great, times we’d had in that house and how much we would miss it. It then occurred to me that I would never live in the house my family was moving into. It was emotional.
All of my stuff was packed. And I had a LOT of stuff. If something held even the slightest sentimental value to me, I kept it. Boxes and boxes and tubs of memories were closed up. One in particular held the contents of my bottom dresser drawer. It was the most important box. It was not going with me, though, because I was super poor and living with two roommates and storage was whaaat??
So off went my bottom drawer in the safe and loving and extremely responsible arms of my Mom and Dad.
Yessssssss. Sure it did.
Off I went to begin living my exhilaratingly spectacularly interesting life. I was busy, man. I would visit my parents of course, but never really thought much about where my junk was until probably a year later.
“Hey Dad where are the boxes from my room?”
“In the crawl space”.
Yeah, that damned crawl space. Do not buy a house without a basement for chrissakes, I chided them. But they didn’t care. They did it anyway. They did not want to have a basement that would just accumulate junk. So instead they got a scary, dank 3-foot high hole in the ground in which to accumulate junk. Come onnnnnn.
So I crawled like vermin into the pit of despair looking for something, I forget what. Once down there I remembered. I need to get those cards so that I could hold them close to my bosom whenever I wanted.
I looked. And looked. And bashed my head on a beam. And seethed four letter words like (earmuffs) shit, damn, fuck and son-of-a-bitch. Cuz guess what? There was no bottom drawer.
There were no cards. I really felt sick.
I felt like I had lost my best, inanimate, shiny-paper friends and I was PISSED.
I immediately hissed “Dad”. I knew it was him. He has a little more than OCD when it comes to clutter. He does not like it. And he did not like the boxes that pretended to be clutter-free. He did not trust boxes. And I just KNEW he threw them out while cackling through an evil, snarling, laugh….”Gone, Gonnneee, GONE!!!!”
At various points over the following 9 years, the topic of my most prized possessions would come up. And it always went the same way: I would either ask again where they could be or go back down and look for them again, then I would be mad to the point of tears when my Dad would say so cavalierly “Oh for God’s sake, I did NOT throw them out! I’m sure they are somewhere. You are so dramatic”.
Number One: No shit. I was an actor.
Number Two: HOW COULD YOU THROW OUT MY SHIT!!!!!!!
For those of you wondering why a grown woman made her parents responsible for her most prized possession….I say “I do not know”, so just shhhhhhhh.
Oh, sure, my father and I managed to break bread together and continue a cordial relationship. And to the untrained eye everything was super great! My mom would try to back him up, but she knew as well as I did that he probably chucked them off the moving truck before you could say “Help me, Obi Wan…”
For 9 damn years these cards would come up in conversation, several times a year. It became a joke of sorts. TO EVERYONE ELSE. When there was nothing else to do and everyone was bored someone would think “Hey, see that big, red Fisher-Price button over there on Laura’s head?? Push THAT!”
But life chugged along, and I pushed past the clearly first-world pain of it all. And I gave up.
Christmas Eve, 1999.
The Eve was always so much more fun and looked forward to than Christmas day itself. My Grandma and Papa were both still alive then. We all had fewer wrinkles and less Ben-Gay usage. We ate my Mom’s famous fried smelt and my aunt’s famous pizzelels, we laughed with cousins.
And, we opened presents.
We were all pretty much done, and then I got one my sister did not get. My mother throughout our entire lives treated me and my younger sister as if we were Bizarro World identical twins – getting the same number and mostly same actual gifts with only minor variations. I understand this practice now that I have three sons, especially since the disastrous Present Counting of 2012. My mother is a genius.
My sister did not get this present though. There was a note attached to this one for me – and my Mom said to read it out loud to everyone.
My parents and sister knew what was in there of course. It is my sister you hear busting a gut at my reaction. My dearly departed Grandma can be heard laughing throughout. Further in the video my cousin says “I’ve never seen anyone go so crazy over Star Wars cards”, and my brother-in-law said to my sister “That’s a little dramatic isn’t it?”. And my sister, who usually rolled her eyes at my Thespianism, said “Nah, that’s for real”.
Back in 1999 my parents had gone down into the crawl space the same they did every year to get the Christmas tree. While down there my Dad opened up some box that I had miraculously missed every single damn time, opened it up and called to my Mom…”Look what I found”.
They are not really worth much. Lots of kids kept those cards. Lots of collectors had the forethought to keep those cards in pristine condition or in their original wrapping. But that’s not really the point, is it?
It is the tangibleness of memories that made them so special to me. I like time machines. Plus, they are just badass.
They now sit in that same box on my dresser, in plain sight so I can keep my eye on them. Sometimes I bolt awake in a cold sweat, panting hard…”Where are they, where ARE they???” Ugh, I don’t. But I really should. Once in a while I take them down and show my boys, who now love Star Wars as much as I do. When they ask “Mom, can we play with your Star Wars cards!”, I turn into Clark Griswold passing by and waxing poetic about the St. Louis Arch as Russ and Audrey excitedly ask to go into it….”No”. Sure, of course when they are older and more responsible in their 30’s. What, am I CRAZY??
That was the best, most awesome Christmas present I have ever received. If someone had asked me what the odds were that I would ever see those cards again I would have said, really super not good. But as any good Star Wars geek would have reminded me, “Never tell me the odds”.
Sometimes what is lost can be found. Sometimes your parents and family truly know what is important to you and don’t chuck your memories off a moving truck.
I should have kept the faith. I am so fortunate. So lucky. My family is pretty great. A powerfully good force in my life.
“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid”.
“You talkin’ to ME?”
(Nope. Hold on…)
“I see dead people”.
(Arghhhh, that’s not IT…)
(Ah, here it comes…)
HEAVY-HANDEDNESS FAIR WARNING EARMUFFS ALERT:
May the force be with you.