The Clutter In The Attic
By Tom Nussbaum
As we age, our memories pile up like the stacks of magazines in the attic of the generations old family home. The weight of the teetering towers of Saturday Evening Post, Life, TV Guide, Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, Look, and Family Circle magazines could, over time, cause the weakening attic floor to give, sending the heavy collection of periodicals on a destructive fall to the rooms below and out the door into the yard for all to see. Likewise, our collection of memories, although comforting, could bring us down, too.
I am not saying having memories or sharing them is bad. I play mine over repeatedly. I probably live in the past as much as or more than I live in the present. In fact, I’ve written and published a memoir. Having memories is not the problem. Sharing them is not the problem. The devil, however, is in the details. The mistake people make in sharing memories is usually in the minutia.
When telling a tale from the past, people often include far too many specifics, unnecessary information, and digressions. We often sacrifice relevance and appropriateness to the conversation to create our own comfort zone. The details people share may be interesting or important only to the storyteller. Sometimes, these particulars are not even true. Usually they reveal much more about us than we intend. As a result, we can bore the people with whom we are talking or, worse, cause them to think we should be avoided in the future.
In the event one is asked, for example, if he or she has ever been to Europe, the answer should be a simple “yes” or “no” with, perhaps, a reference to the year or places visited. The questioner may ask follow-up questions or briefly add their similar experience if they wish. But many of us reply to a simple question with a barrage of unsolicited information in a stream-of-consciousness rambling.
Meet Grace Crawford of Topeka, Kansas.
“Oh, yes. Henry and I went to Europe in ’97. Or was it ’98? Oh, it was ’97. It was right after our daughter Heather had little Jessica, our beautiful little princess. We were so happy; Heather and Greg finally had a girl after the two boys. Anyway, Henry and I went to London and Paris. I wanted to include Switzerland, but we just couldn’t afford it. And I’ve regretted it ever since. You know, coming from Kansas, I really wanted to see those Alps. I mean the biggest hill at home is a freeway overpass. But, anyway, we went to London and met the loveliest couple, Lillian and Geoff Barclay, from Liverpool. Before we even had a chance to ask, though, Geoff told us neither of them knew any of the Beatles. It was like he could read our minds. Oh, we laughed so hard I almost spilled my McDonald’s coffee.
Anyway, Lillian was a secretary or something at a school and Geoff worked for the post office. I don’t think he delivered mail, though. It seems to me he had bad feet or something. He had a desk job. Anyway, we met on a tour of Westminster Abbey. I hadn’t heard of half the people buried there, so I wasn’t really moved by the experience, but I remember Lillian cried. I don’t remember which grave it was though. They all looked the same to me. Anyway, Lillian had the prettiest lavender lace hankie and I so wanted to ask her how she got it. But I couldn’t. Not when she was crying. I think it was at the grave of one of the kings, maybe a Henry. No. It was one of the Elizabeths, the one Bette Davis played in that old movie. The building was really nice though. We don’t have anything like it in Kansas. Well, maybe the governor’s mansion in Leavenworth. Oh, it was his knee, Geoff’s knee. That was why he had a desk job.
“Ah,” the innocent inquisitor might say, ”so, you’ve been to Europe.”
Could it be that our rambling storyteller hadn’t heard from Lillian because she had bored the pudding out of the Liverpudlian as she had her inquiring friend? Had the details of her stories, like the heavy piles of magazines in the attic, crashed through the rickety floorboards of her mind and tumbled down and out her mouth, sabotaging her friendship with Lillian?
Certainly, as we age, we feel we have stories and knowledge to share. And we do. But if we all attempt to edit ourselves, cut to the chase, and get to the point, we will be less irritating and more interesting to those around us. We will be better companions and the world, as a result, will be a considerably quieter and more peaceful place. You know, the quietest, most peaceful place I’ve ever been is the Washington Cascades. It’s near Granite Falls, I think. Or maybe it was Mt. Si. Anyway, you could hear the eagles overhead flap their wings and…No. It was on the North Cascades Highway facing Mt. Washington. Yes. That’s it. By the way, did you know Mt. Washington wasn’t named for our first president as people think? I was told it was named by Teddy Roosevelt for actor Denzel Washington. I wonder if Denzel has ever been to The Scone Castle.