Finding toys in the attic

Chris Hardie
Chris Hardie’s son Ross, daughter-in-law Lucy and grandson Samuel sort through some of Ross’s childhood toys.

I have a confession to make that will not shock long time readers of this column or anyone who knows me.

I have toys in the attic.

Yes I am a little eccentric and strange, but in this case I am being literal. I have toys in the attic.

Lots of them.

When we moved into my great grandparents house in 2006, our youngest son Ross was just graduating from high school and our daughter Jessica was a student in college. So we packed up our house and all of its belongings and moved everything. That included all of our children’s possessions they no longer needed like their childhood toys.

Once our home’s new addition was complete, I hauled several boxes and bags of toys up the step ladder into the attic. The intent was to give them back to the kids – either when they had their own house or when they had their own children.

That was 17 years ago and we all know there are roads paved to destinations with good intentions. The attic treasures were out of sight and out of mind.

In our defense, Jessica’s family moved a few times and she has three sons with no interest in her collection of girl toys. Ross also has moved a few times while his wife Lucy finished seminary.

Life marches on and the toys were nearly forgotten. That is until recently when Ross, Lucy and their son Samuel visited and Ross mentioned fetching the toys.

Up the ladder we went and down came the toys – along with the memories.

Memories are like ripples in time that are tucked away in the hidden corners of the mind.

Sometimes they are never opened, sealed forever with other forgotten life experiences.

But sometimes they come back, with a magical key that opens the hidden memory vaults and the ripples flood back in a nostalgic wave.

The memory keys are sometimes a song, a place, a scent or an object. Instantly we are taken back – sometimes decades – to relive that long-forgotten time and place. Some call them ghost memories,  involuntary memory, precious fragments or mind pops.

Whatever they are called, I’ve been having lots of them the past few months as our family has cleaned out my mother’s home of more than 50 years of memories. Mom moved into assisted living last year and has now transitioned into nursing home care.

Sorting through possessions that were collected over a lifetime is a delicate task. Mom had already gifted most of her most treasured items, but there was still plenty to parse. Farm awards and dairy cattle records, Dad’s 42-plus years on the local school board, his bowling trophies and Mom’s teaching awards – just to name a few. 

Sorting through possessions that were collected over a lifetime is a delicate task...from farm awards to dairy cattle records.

What to throw away? What to keep?  What to give away? What to sell? Does it really matter? Will anyone care?

You do the best you can because you have to. Sometimes the memories are happy. Sometimes they are sad.

There were lots of happy memories when Ross, Lucy and Samuel started sorting through the toys. Out came cars and trucks, games, puzzles, Legos, farm animals, figurines from children’s meals of long ago and everything you can imagine.

There were no boxed toys in mint condition boxed up as collectibles. These were toys that were played hard as toys should be. There may be some value in some of his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figurines, but the memories are priceless.

Fifty years, 40 years, 30 years, 20 years – where did the time go? Ross was like our little boy again as he rediscovered parts of his childhood that he will now share with his little boy. Samuel will play with many of the same toys his father did.

But the toys are not the true treasure. Maybe someday when I’m long gone and exist only in memory, Samuel will unlock that vault, smile and remember the day of the toys in the attic.

Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at