Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Great Cassette Purge of 2017


My husband and I have a serious difference of opinion when it comes to stuff. He calls me a hoarder, and I think he's way too quick on the draw to throw things away. I like to keep things that I think I might need someday. A purple feather boa, a bottle of orange finger nail polish, an earring that lost its mate in 2002, that self-help book about finding true love that someone gave me after my divorce that I never read, and boxes and boxes of cassette tapes. You just never know what that stuff is going come in useful, right?

 Meanwhile, I think my husband throws away stuff we should be holding onto. Several pairs of perfectly good socks, an ice scraper, two squeegees, and a never used faux snakeskin bible cover were all tossed last week. He admonished me when I pulled out one of the squeegees, but less than 24 hours later, we were using it to remove snow from my car, so was I feeling pretty vindicated.

 But for the past two weeks, he and I have been working together as a team to systemically go through every cupboard, desk, shelf and box in our house in a major effort to purge items that we just don't need.

Gone are half burned candles covered in dust. All those VHS tapes I recorded movies onto during HBO free preview weekends aren't taking up space in my living room anymore. No longer living in a cupboard in my dining room is the red skull shaped drinking mug filled with plastic black widow spider rings I got at the Dollar Tree for one of Sophia's childhood Halloween themed birthday parties. I went through my closet and took every skirt, blouse and sweater that I haven't worn in 10 years, and filled up 5 garbage bags. That polka dotted bra with the underwire poking out? In the trash can, along with 4 or 5 half emptied bottles of moisturizer and some lipstick that I haven't worn since before the mortgage crisis of 2008.

Then Eddie summoned me down to the basement, into the room with the sacred bins. The bins that have fallen into the untouchable category, stacked in a corner, not to be messed with. Granted, some of the totes were filled with my clothes (from the last time I weeded out every skirt, blouse and sweater I hadn't worn in 10 years), but most were filled with baby clothes and toys that I've been saving for the day my daughter has a child of her own, and artwork from her youth. Her first attempts at writing her name, a calendar she made in the first grade, and a painting of her future garage band.

Thankfully, he agreed with me. These things are staying right where they are. After all, that little blonde girl in pigtails in the bottom left hand corner of the painting? She's actually playing the guitar now, which I think she's trying to depict in her art. Someday this might be the cover of her first album, and all because I saved that watercolor from 2005. I'm also pretty sure her firstborn, male or female, will one day be sporting the green Carhartt overalls I've been saving since she grew out of them at age 5.


Then the bin filled with VHS tapes was hoisted onto the table for me to go through. Most of them got chucked out, but the entire day came to a grinding halt when I started coming across the home movies that had been stuck in a box, forgotten for years. As you probably can imagine, when I made home movies with my kid, there was usually a plot, some kind of artsy cohesion, or at the very least a music montage. When her pre-school teacher Heather got married, I gathered Sophia and her classmates together in a church and filmed them trying on suits and dresses and walking down the aisle in my wedding veil and heels. When Sophia and her friend made cookies, we turned it into a tutorial, "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Show." When she was 2, she and her friend CeCe went on a treasure hunt to find money so they could buy hot chocolate in "The Treasure Seekers." This is just a taste... pigtailed Sophia and CeCe, after finally discovering their treasure on the beach, head to the local coffeehouse.


I sat for hours and watched each one, because of course I haven't thrown out my VHS recorder. And once Eddie sat down and started going through the memories with me, he knew right away. These things must stay.

When we got back to the business of going through boxes again, the next item on the chopping block was a bin filled with cassette tapes. Actually, there was more than one bin. I'm not talking about pre-recorded cassettes, although there were several hundred of those. Remember the George Michael tape I just wrote about a few weeks ago? It was in there. It's gone now, along with all the rest, disposed of during the great cassette purge of 2017. I'm talking about the special cassettes I will never get rid of. My debut on the radio back in 1985. The songs of humpback whales I captured on my next door neighbor's boat when he invested in a hydrophone. A recording of me speaking Greek with my boyfriend when I lived on Crete in 1989. And the answering machine messages. I have an entire shoebox filled with cassette tapes filled with incoming messages from 1988, when I bought a Radio Shack answering machine, until I finally retired the thing in 2002. Although truth be told, I still save as many voicemails as my iPhone inbox will hold. And I've even transferred a few into my computer. When Eddie and I got married, I included one of them into the song that played when I walked down the aisle, and it still makes me cry every time I hear it.

And finally, there was one more cassette tape that I came across that brings a flood of memories back to me every time I rediscover it. It's a cassette I originally came across when going through my grandfather's artifacts; the items he'd whittled down to a few small boxes of letters, some photographs, jewelry, a coin collection and the cassette.

The tape is the first audio recording of my voice that I know of. I happen to still have a (barely) working cassette deck at home too, so I plopped in the tape and relived my childhood all over again in one half hour. I was 8, and had a slightly southern accent (perhaps because we lived in Missouri for a few years). The tape was a verbal letter to my grandparents. In it, I went into detail about how two girls at school had suddenly decided not to be my friend, and I didn't know why. I told them all about the presents my other grandmother had sent me for Christmas, and how much I liked the perfume, but was perplexed at the bottle of underarm deodorant I'd received. I turned the mic over to my 6 year old sister, who told my grandparents that she loved them more than the scale weighed. The other side of the cassette features my sister and I singing several patriotic songs with my grandmother accompanying us at the piano, introduced by my grandfather. It brought back memories of all the summers my sister and I spent at my grandparent's dancing to the radio in their kitchen, and all the elaborate theatrical productions we came up with in the years before cable TV and Facebook to keep us busy. And it reminded me of how much I loved my grandparents, and how much they loved me.

As you can probably imagine, going through the memories of 50 years took a pretty big emotional toll on me, but I'm so glad I did it, and so glad I'd saved so many relics of my childhood, of my daughter's childhood, and even the insignificant moments of those in between years caught on tape forever on my answering machine.  Its a forever reminder of who I am, and how I developed, and the people who weaved in and out of my life over the course of 5 decades. Lovers and friends, coworkers and roommates, and those who have moved on to another realm, but I still have their voices to remember them by.

Today's Great Cassette Tape Purge of 2017 playlist captures some of the favorites songs of my childhood that came to my head last weekend on my memory expedition. Don't laugh. I'm sure the songs of your childhood - as weird as they may be to anyone else - bring happy tears and a smile to your face too.


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