As long as I can remember, I have been a collector. One of those people who save everything. Now it is race bibs, shirts and medals. When I was younger, it was sports cards, ticket stubs and coins. I have always felt the need to hold on to mementos from the past, small things that gave me tangible reminders of places, experiences and people.
As my siblings and I have gone through our parent’s house this week, I have come to realize that I must have gotten this habit from my mom. My dad never saved much of anything. I suspect that he had no desire to hold onto memories of a painful childhood that included the death of his father and constant challenges from a difficult mother. My mom, on the other hand, saved everything. We have discovered old photos, birthday cards, postcards and coupons so old that the issuing company no longer exists. We have laughed as we have looked at old drawings and things we wrote, and cried while reading birthday cards our parents exchanged.
We have also struggled to come to terms with the fact that we will be selling the home we grew up in, the only place I have ever lived that truly felt like home. With that in mind, I went for a run to collect some memories from a neighborhood that will, soon, no longer be mine.
I ran through Flushing Meadow Park where I used to search with friends for cans and bottles, each of which brought a treasure of five cents. I ran past the pitch and putt, where my best friend and I tried to learn to play golf. I felt sad as I saw Citi Field, the Mets new home, built to look old, in place of Shea Stadium where I had come many times with dad. I ran across the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge, a bridge that once seemed so long, that we used to cross after using our local wisdom and parking in nearby Flushing instead of the crowded and overpriced stadium lots. From there I continued on towards the building where my maternal grandparents used to live. I passed the store where my grandmother used to buy me Garbage Pail Kids, cards which served as proof that I would go for anything if I couldn’t get sports cards. I passed my grandparent’s building and thought of the cookies my grandmother used to make, cookies that I can still taste, even now, almost 30 years later. I was surprised to see that, in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly Asian, their synagogue still stands. I thought of their friends who used to pinch my cheeks as my grandparents showed me off. On the way back home I passed the hospital where my father died (how easily I could write “was killed”) almost four years before. As I ran past, I felt the illusion of youthful strength that will always be there, knowing at the same time, that one day, like all of us, his fate would be mine.
I have no old chest in which to store these precious collectables, no album in which to preserve them. Still, I know, that although they will never be discovered and held by future generations curious to know who I was, they will endure in a way that no coin, photo or baseball card ever could.