Monday, February 9, 2009
Ribbons in the Trash
An envelope came in the mail last week. It was a big manila square, full of treasures from the past. My oldest sister was cleaning out her attic and found some things that were mine.
That's what happens when your mom dies as you are just starting adulthood, and your dad remarries and moves on. All that stuff that other people store in their parent's attics doesn't exist. For a short time after her death we gathered together, and cleaned things out, and gave things away, and packed things in boxes or plastic tubs. And life went on.
There were times, through the years, that I would think to myself, "I wonder where my baby book is...." or "I wonder where that yearbook is..." I wanted so badly to rest in the thought that probably, in all likelihood, they were 'in mom and dad's attic'. But that place didn't exist anymore. If I don't have it in my possession right now, it's probably gone forever.
So this envelope, filled with treasures from the past, was a nice surprise on a dark winter day. It was stuffed with aged, tattered certificates with my name on them. Vacation Bible School attendance awards. Library service awards. Recognition of junior high club participation certificates. It was a walk down my memory lane of the late seventies, early eighties.
But the bulk of the envelope was filled with ribbons. Most of my growing up years I lived in the country, on a piece of property that some might call a farm. Well, only city people would call it a farm. As my mom always said, "we had a little bit of everything but not much of anything." One cow, two horses, a few pigs, a coop full of chickens and an occasional duck herd that always ended up as dinner for the neighborhood dogs.
And with our rural life came 4-H. We were in a group that met once a month, way in the back woods of Missouri, in a church that had to have been over a hundred years old. Every year we signed up for different classes. We learned how to make butter cream frosting and decorate a cake with flowers and smushed roses. We learned basic sewing and took turns running our neatly pinned seams through mom's old machine. We had cooking classes, where we learned the trick to measuring shortening without making a huge mess. (it was the seventies, lots of recipes called for shortening).
Every year we also did some kind of animal project. My brothers raised a few pigs and more than a few goats. We tried raising a few ducks but the neighborhood dogs won that battle. We even tried rabbits one year, until dad broke it to us that some people also call furry bunnies 'dinner'.
And every year we worked on projects, fed and raised small farm animals, and perfected our buttercream flowers for one purpose. To go to the fair.
It was the highlight of the year and by far the best part of the summer. A stroll through the fairgrounds would take you past the pens where my brothers camped out with their goats, through buildings where my sisters and I displayed floral jumpers we'd sewn all by ourselves, and through exhibit halls where our garden vegetables were sitting side by side with similar looking produce from other 4-H clubs.
It was sweet to earn a blue ribbon and to earn a purple, which meant you were the best in the county and would move on the state fair, was a dream. To make the deal even more sweet, the county paid us a token dollar amount for each ribbon earned. For most of us it was the only way we could earn money and those few dollars and coins were sacred.
So when the ribbons arrived in the mail this week, a flood of memories came with them. Memories of childhood, and learning life skills and sharing experiences with my siblings.
But I really have no use for an envelope full of ribbons. What good does it do to pack them in a plastic tub that sits in my furnace room year after year?
So I did something I have done for years with my kids school artwork. I took a picture, to save the memory, and gave the actual ribbons a new home in our kitchen trash can. A garbage can full of ribbons that will make their way to the end of the driveway on trash day.
The ribbons might be gone. But just looking at this picture is enough to bring back the priceless childhood feelings of being a part of something much bigger than myself.