I never thought Stone Cold Steve Austin would get between Mom and me.
And yet, here we were.
“No,” she said. “This is not happening. No way.” She clutched the Stone Cold doll as if her life depended on it.
It really was a doll, not one of those plastic wrestler figurines, though my younger brother had those growing up, too. Back then, he had an entire bin full of the late 90s World Wrestling Federation stars: Kane. The Undertaker. Paul Bearer. X-Pac. Triple H. An eclectic mix of Good Guys and Bad Guys, complete with scowls and six packs.
Ryan’s favorite was Stone Cold Steve Austin, whose wrestling persona was all blue-collar, beer-guzzling, trash-talking. His neck would twist and turn as he stood across from his latest arch nemesis in the ring, spitting out one witty, raw, rude insult after another. But Austin was the good guy. The “face.” The hero who saved the day: one Stone Cold Stunner move at a time.
When Ryan was six or seven, he dressed up as Austin for Halloween. Mom used her Cover Girl brown eyeliner pen to draw a mustache and goatee to match the wrestler. With his new facial hair, vest and AUSTIN 3:16 hat, Ryan looked like a mini version of the Texas Rattlesnake.
Now, Mom held tightly to our doll pal Stone Cold. He stretched about a foot long. Plastic bald head and bulging arms. Soft cloth body. His black tight tee matched his black combat boots and wrestling briefs. His eyebrows were painted angry: a face that now matched my mother’s expression as she looked at me.
We faced off between my parent’s entryway and the kitchen. Brown eyes locked, hands on hips. The oak grandfather clock scolded us with its tick-tick-tick. Dad sat behind me at the kitchen table. I’d call him in for backup, though I was hoping to win this one on my own.
“You can’t,” I said. My eyes drifted to Stone Cold, lifeless in my mom’s hands. No Stunners today. “I get it, I do, but these are our memories. From childhood. Like, come on,”—I gestured toward the doll—“that was Ryan’s. He loved Stone Cold, remember? We can’t just getridof him.”
“Lindsay, you had no idea that Stone Cold was here until I brought him up from the basement,” Mom said. Her voice was as crisp as fresh linen. “We can’t keep all this STUFF.” She shook Stone Cold. He was not rattled.
“You wouldn’t want all this crap if it was in your house,” she continued. Her eyes were big now, her voice rising like a wave. “It’s all crap. Total junk.”
Oh no. I knew this tone. This tone meant rollercoaster results. Hop on board and watch Jeanne spiral.
“We are hoarders,” she stated matter-of-factly. “That’s what we are. We are a bunch of HOARDERS just like on that television show. Your dad,” she looked over my shoulder at him—“is a HOARDER.”
And here…we…go. Arms up, everybody.
I sighed. “We are not hoarders.”
“We are!” Mom argued. “We have a basement full of crap. You don’t even live here anymore and you still have a ton of stuff up in your closet.”
“I went through things.”
Mom raised her eyebrow. “Oh really? Then why do we need your old prom dresses? Where are you going to wear those?”
True. I needed to donate those.I pictured my junior year prom dress hanging in my old bedroom closet. It was pale pink: the color of cotton candy and strawberry ice cream.
“Dad,” I now said, turning around to face my father sitting in his spot at the kitchen table. “Do you hear this? Mom is getting rid of our childhood.”
Dad stood up from the table. “No, she’s not.” He walked toward my mom, still holding onto Stone Cold Steve Austin. “We aren’t getting rid of the kids’ toys, Jean.”
Mom shuddered, incredulous. “Oh OK, so they’re just going to sit in the basement, collecting dust? Why do we need to keep all of this stuff? This is ridiculous. It’s JUNK.”
Dad reached out and took Stone Cold. “No, it’s not, we aren’t hoarders, it’s fine.” He gave Stone Cold to me, opened the front door and walked out toward the backyard. That was that.
“We are hoarders,” Mom repeated as the door shut behind my dad. But her voice had quieted, the tinge of defeat softening its edges. She turned around and went upstairs. I carried Stone Cold back downstairs into the basement, his face as tough as ever. Another match won. Ring the bell.
In my own house, I tend to lean toward Mom—who wants to get rid of everything—versus Dad—who wants to get rid of nothing. Earlier this year, I hopped on the minimalism bandwagon for a hot second. The approach to life centers on the concept of getting rid of stuff/things/etc. that is not of true use or happiness. Like everyone else, I watched that show on Netflix with Marie Kondo and perused her book, “Spark Joy.” I got inspired. Took everything in my closet, threw it in the living room, organized it. Kept the items that brought me joy(that was Marie Kondo’s big requirement).Got rid of the clothes that didn’t.
It felt nice, to clear things out that I didn’t need anymore. The things that had holes, or had faded, or didn’t fit, or wasn’t quite me.
As someone who likes to keep things tidy, I was loving this minimalism thing. Goodbye purposeless items! Gimme all that joy. Only joy.
Until I came across my stuff that was more than stuff. They were time capsules. Memories stitched into the fabric. Feelings faded into the paint.
And that’s when I realized that things aren’t always just things. The ordinary, everyday items can also be special and symbolic.
Things can serve as an extension of a friend you don’t talk to anymore, or a time that you can’t get back. A tangible memory that provides proof that your brain and your heart are not playing tricks on you. Yes, that really happened. See, look: Here’s the movie stub. Here’s that sweatshirt. The burnt CD with the words he scribbled in Sharpie. The faded Pistons shirt, the scuffed tap shoes, the tarnished trophy.
It happened. It did. You did. We did.
Here. Look. Remember.
Things mean memories. Memories that may seem insignificant, or forgotten, or lost. Until you rub the dress’s taffeta fabric in between your fingers, or pop in the Tim McGraw CD, or hug the brown teddy bear with the hole in it’s neck.
Our symbols—our things—are different for all of us. The memory assigns the meaning. Suddenly, something ordinary isn’t so ordinary anymore.
You see a maize and blue Michigan snapback hat or a cherry red Ford F150 truck and think nothing of it. I see my dad. I will always see my dad.
You see a cream-colored lace dress and think, “Oh, that’s pretty.” I see my and my friend Cassie’s Halloween costume, when dressing up as “dead dolls” brightened our day during a dark time.
My list goes on and on:
A mustard-colored sweater. Fuzzy socks.
A Dreamland baby doll. A tie-dyed Girls on the Run T-Shirt.
Fuschia Fusion eye shadow. Silver and blue track spikes. A wooden piggy bank.
A George Strait cassette tape. A Bob Evans name tag. Pink ballet slippers.
Like archeologists uncovering forgotten bones, the simple act of spring cleaning can stir up memories and ghosts.
That’s why some people keep things: to remember.
And that’s why people get rid of things: to forget.
We get to choose what we take, and what we let go.
Today, Stone Cold remains at my parents’ house. Ryan now has his own beard; he doesn’t need Mom to draw it on with eyeliner. But the wrestling doll represents a time in our lives that once was. A season that we remember. Despite all the space things take up, sometimes the memory is worth more than the space.