Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stroll Down Memory Highway

Friends! I feel like I've been gone for a million years. But for those of you in the knitting world, you'll be happy to know that I was up to something good. As you may or may not know, we are doing a third book in the Custom Knits series with Wendy Bernard (the second book comes out in October!), and I got to join our amazing LA crew for the photo shoot. And here's a fun fact: Did you know that Wendy and I both grew up in the same town and went to the same high school? In fact, she lives in the same neighborhood where my parents live! So Wendy was kind enough to pick me up at my parent's house and drive me to the shoot each day. (Like a typical non-driving New Yorker, my driver's license expired months ago and I only just recently noticed.)
So, while the days were long and the knits were plentiful, the shoot days were very fun. The crew was incredibly talented and easy-going, the weather was wonderful, and we got to do things like go out on a sailboat (praying that the amazing bikini-clad model wouldn't fall into the ocean and/or get was chilly out there!)
At nights and on the weekend, however, was the really hard work. And it had nothing to do with knitting. See, my parents got this idea in their head about six months ago that they are ready to retire and move to the mountains. So, as of this August, our lovely suburban house of 32 years will go up for sale. And in the meantime, my parents have had 32 years worth of renovations to do. And last week, my sister and I had 32 years of crap to sift through. Exhibit A: This box.
Do you know what's in this box? This box alone contained every single note that I received between 7th and 9th grade. That's right, this doesn't even cover the rest of high school. That's every little "hey chica, what's up?" Every love letter. Every "this class is SO lame." Every letter I ever wrote in a fury and never sent. Many of them were still folded up in that intricate origami style favored by tweens and teens...why did we do that anyway? For the convenience of passing the note in class? Did we have an obsession with pull tabs? Is it because they're the perfect size for fitting in your back jeans pocket? There were thousands THOUSANDS of these notes, and while I didn't read every single one, I did at least take a look at each one. Some were saved for further investigation and for inflicting humiliation on friends. Most were tossed. (I may look like a hoarder, but I swear I'm not!)
Some gems popped up, like an elementary school classmate's headshots. (Nice Don Johnson, Andy!)
Diaries were read aloud to the amusement of the whole family. A particular favorite was this entry from Erin which reads, "Dear Diary, I've got to do it. HANDS ACROSS USA!"
My "We Are the World" record resurfaced...!
As did my beloved Ramona Quimby and the Sweet Pickles gang.
(Do you remember these awesome endpapers???)
Of course my favorite literary find was not the vintage Nancy Drews, guessed it: my Sweet Valley High books. Oh those Wakefield twins! You were so slutty and unlikable, but I just couldn't stop reading about your lives!!
And here I feel a need to put a special spotlight on book #6, titled "All Night Long", in which Jessica apparently dates a mustachioed gay man. Was this really what we thought of when we thought of "bad boys" in the '80s?
We found ugly earrings from the '80s...slick gobs of plastic molded into geometric shapes.
And heart-shaped earrings with hearts in them for me. What every 5th grader wants to wear, clearly!
We found Raggedy Ann, whose pants refused to stay up. (Much to our hilarity.) 
Aunt Ginny came over on Saturday afternoon and we pulled out the Barbie trunk, which contains about 5 mutilated Barbies, 2 cross-dressed Kens (we never had any boy clothes for them other than those blue swim shorts!), and Barbie clothes that spanned several decades. You see, my mom and aunt used to play with Barbies, too, and their grandmother made clothes for the Barbies, including several of the ones shown below. 
Just look at this sweet little dress!
While mom and Aunt Ginny got nostalgic about their childhood, Erin and I confessed to having a special place in our hearts for the Barbie clothes of the '70s and '80s. We definitely preferred the Star Search "spokesmodel" gowns and sparkly bell bottoms when it came to Barbie's wardrobe.
Last but not least, we had to deal with the dolls. Not Barbies, mind you, but our Great Grandma Neva's collection of international dolls. Neva had many interests in her life, but one of her greatest passions was collecting dolls from around the world. Some were bought at Buffums, while others were made in remote villages in countries far far away and brought home for her by traveling friends. And since she passed away 30 years ago, my mom has kept the dolls boxed up in the rafters of the garage. Every few years when we were growing up, Erin and I would beg her to get out the boxes so that we could unwrap each one and marvel. These weren't for playing, they were for investigating. Some are scary, some are gorgeous. Each one is fascinating and exotic. We counted them all, but then we found another box, so I believe the final count was somewhere around 140 dolls. We unwrapped each doll and propped it up against the walls in the family room. We gave up on organizing the dolls by country, and so they became a sort of "Small World"-esque collection of freaks and fancy.
There were dolls from Spain and Mexico, Ecuador and England. (I took the two tall ones shown above. I LOVE them.)
There were dolls from Japan, and dolls bearing fruit. Even a few dolls that had been nibbled on by rats (I'm not joking) like the lady on the left (above).
There were dolls with missing parts, like this one that we named "Holly Bucket Hands".
There were fancy Parisian dolls (I took these ones, too)...
...Iranian cloth dolls, and Native American dolls picked up on reservations in the 1950s.
Dancing dolls from Thailand stood alongside porcelain geishas and shellacked stands.

In the end, the four of us flipped coins to decide on an order, and then we went through and each picked a handful of our favorites. I don't think any of us took more than 10 dolls. And the rest, I'm afraid, we'll be giving away to charity. There's only so long you can carry around another person's collection, and while we love them, none of us has room for 140 dolls. So we took our favorites, and now we'll display them. Better to have a few treasures out in the open than a collection out in the garage.

Aunt Ginny wondered if Neva was watching us from beyond as we played with her doll collection, fought over our favorites, and giggled at their disrepair. And I would have to say yes, without a doubt. Neva's presence, as well as the presence of so many other ancestors, was loud and clear all of last weekend. From Great Grandma Katie's crocheted and embroidered dish towels to Great Great Grandpa Myron's underlined passages in century-old books and hand-written sermons tucked between the pages.

The moment when I most felt their presence here, in our present world, was when my mom found a photo--one of many in a mish-moshed shoebox--of a house in North Hollywood that my great great grandparents moved into when they first came to Los Angeles in the 1930s. It was a lovely single story Spanish style house, and on the backside was written an address, a description of the facade, and a mention of the young jacaranda trees that were planted in the front yard. I said to my mom, let's look it up on Google maps! Maybe it's still there? And so we typed in the address and switched to the satellite view, which first showed us a view of the greater LA area. As we clicked to zoom in, we saw the neighborhood, the street, and then there we were, at street level, looking at the exact same house--the same arches, the same white stucco, the same tiles--as shown in the photo from the 1930s. Aside from a swapped out fence, all that was different were the jacaranda trees, which now reach far beyond the roof of the house and are full of purple blossoms.


  1. You know what's really sad? I didn't actually do Hands Across America.

    (Last weekend was SO FUN! Maybe even better than Disneyland!)

  2. Erin, I just saw this. How did I not see your comment before? Also, how could you have lied about Hands Across America?? That's, like, blasphemy!