I’m making a point lately of asking my parents more about life before my brother and I came along.
I wish this had occurred to me a decade or so ago, but for whatever reason, it did not. Now, as I round the bend toward 45, I gain both a deep appreciation for their stories and a gnawing fear of missing out on them, and I’m learning to ask.
At Christmas, we got on the topic of my parents’ first car. It was a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle — two-door, leatherette trim, custom orange paint job. My dad bought it as a gift for my mom on Jan. 27, 1967: exactly one month after their wedding. It cost $2,054.17.
My dad still has the receipt from University Volkswagen Inc., in Pensacola, Fla., where he was stationed in the Navy. He and my mom would drive that car across the country together to California, where my dad shipped off for Vietnam a few months later.
I keep thinking about that receipt as so many of us engage in a flurry of Marie Kondo-inspired tidying up.
Kondo, if you haven’t heard, is the star of the new Netflix series “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” in which the organizational guru/life coach visits people’s homes and helps them part with their clutter. Her 2014 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” has sold more than 8.5 million copies.
She and her formula are hot, particularly the part where she invites us to hold up our possessions and ask whether they spark joy. If they don’t, it’s off to the consignment/garbage pile.
This directive has inspired a million memes and countless trips to the Salvation Army, and that’s all fine and well. I’m all for being more mindful about the items we surround ourselves with. Maybe her gentle prodding will cause us to think twice before purchasing that inspirational plaque just because it’s on clearance at Target.
But I hope we also leave room for 52-year-old receipts.
I hope we don’t feel shamed into tackling every shoe box, every filing cabinet drawer, every attic crevice, with the eye of a surveyor and the detachment of an auctioneer.
I hope we reserve some space in our hearts and our kitchens/offices/closets/basements for stuff that sparks — what? Maybe not joy, but nostalgia? A sweet memory? A rumination on the rising cost of living versus stagnating wages?
The chance for a meandering conversation with your kid five decades down the road about those early years of marriage, the struggle to make ends meet, the joys and fears and losses and memories that make up a life together and, oh, here, I actually still have the receipt for that first car?
Part of my desire, I think, to gather as many stories from my parents as I can is the growing sense that life isn’t tidy. People aren’t around as long as you’d like them to be. Plans go poof. Jobs go poof. Marriages end. Diseases come knocking.
I understand — embrace, even — the desire to control what we can. Our linen closets, for example.
But I also understand, thanks to that receipt, the power and the beauty of holding on tight — to our stuff and, by extension, to our stories.