Emptying the attic, reviewing the life

This year I may actually keep a New Year’s resolution. While our attic storage space is not crammed full, I knew that it sheltered many items I no longer had any use for. I was determined to make definite decisions and to clear out the clutter.

I was proceeding well until I came to the clothes hanging on racks. Because there was space, it was easy to move outdated, although beloved, outfits from the closet to the attic. It was a convenient place to stash formal attire my husband and I no longer wear.  

My mother, who did not have much extra space, asked me to safeguard the dresses that held special significance for her. Two of her fancy dresses dated from the 1930s. One from the 1950s she wore in Puerto Rico and was flattered when a handsome Spaniard made a pass at her. She even saved the clear plastic shoes with rhinestone buckles that she wore with it. What other stories are associated with these gowns have gone to the grave with her and I do not feel compelled to hold onto these memories that are not mine.

Prom dresses from my three daughters glitter from the rack. Bridesmaid gowns, expensive and worn for a matter of hours, also reside there. I will inquire, but I am sure that they are no longer wanted or even thought about.     

I remove two items, which judging from their vibrant colors date from the late 1960s. One is a long skirt with bands of designs in pink, orange, purple and lime green. The other is a dress with wide palazzo pants in great swirls of the same striking colors. I loved wearing both, especially on the winter vacations my husband and I took to the Caribbean. Just looking at them conjured up the feel of sun rays on pallid skin and of humid air, the smell of suntan lotion, the taste of rum punches, the sounds of steel drums playing “Yellow Bird” and turquoise water lapping the shore.

I think that maybe I should save them in the unlikely event that we are invited to a ’60s party. I cannot resist the urge to try them on. There seems to be a problem around the waist. Three children and 50 years have added to my girth. There is no way I will ever zip them closed again.

The next item I try to fit into is a floor-length blue gown. It is way too long. I have shrunk an inch in my advancing years and I used to wear it with four-inch heels. Today my feet hurt even in flats. The dress moves to the discard pile. Gaining momentum, I dismiss the others with a sigh for a time gone-by.

Peeking into the boxes stashed below the rack is like taking a time-trip back through my life. There is my wedding dress. Despite being carefully cleaned and packaged, it has a stain on the skirt. My daughters had shunned it for their weddings, but could I actually put it in the used clothes bin or even the garbage?

A favorite ski sweater still has a tape with my maiden name sewed into it. I skied all through college. Riding up a chairlift after my engagement senior year, I was chatting with a stranger. When he learned that my fiancé did not ski, he predicted that the marriage would never last. It has, but I have not skied since.

My mother saved one of the dresses that I wore to dancing class in fifth grade. I recall the jumble of emotions that accompanied these sessions held in the auditorium of the town hall, which faced the central common green of a typical old New England town. The fun of dressing up; the mixture of dread and excitement before; the awkwardness of boys lined up standing on one side of the room, the girls seated on the other; the boys racing to select a partner for the fox trot lesson to follow – this and more I remember while I look at this child-sized sheer outfit with green silk trim and ribbons. 

The small handmade and smocked dresses from New Orleans and the pink satin baby bonnet, jacket and booties set may have been mine, or maybe not. In any case, my children wanted nothing to do with them when their daughters were born. They were, however, saved for some reason and I will not be the one to throw them out. 

Carrying an armload of dresses with crinoline enhanced skirts to the top of the attic stairs, I spy an assortment of old LP records. The players for them are long gone. These are dusty relics, I know, but I glance at the covers. This is the music that I grew up with, that I danced to, that I fell in love to now spread across the rough floor boards. How can I part with these? I decide I have done enough work for one day. 


Jane Keiter lives in Lakeville.