PARTING WITH THE PAST by Ellen Donker
Not so fast
It was time. Actually it’s been time to renovate our basement since we moved in, but other above-ground projects took priority. So here we are, 20 years later, having just sorted through collections of pitch-worthy stuff that we saved simply because we had a place to throw it.
Picture a 105-year-old dank, dark space with concrete floors, cinder-block walls and a low open ceiling from which all manner of water and gas pipes, A/C ducts, and electrical wires sprout and you’ll know why it was the perfect dumping ground for half-empty paint cans, tools we’ll never use, ping pong and foosball tables, a crafting table, plastic sleds, a bench press, plant pots stored under the staircase, pantry shelves flanking a refrigerator, about six sets of golf clubs, maybe 450 golf balls, coolers, folding chairs, garbage cans for recyclables and some litter boxes.
Of course, we tossed/recycled/gifted a lot of it during the process of moving everything to the garage during the renovation. But there is one category of possessions that I couldn’t part with. And since they can fit in a smallish box, I finally gave myself permission to keep them.
I’m talking about my favorite portable technology items from the past.
Even to me it seems odd that I would want any of them. They’re not very nice to look at. And I have no place to display them. The only purpose they serve is to help me reminisce about times and places that hold good memories.
Case in point: I got my first cassette recorder in junior high school. It’s a white Panasonic Take 'n Tape and I could record myself and my friends as well as songs from the radio. I remember holding it next to the radio speaker when a good song came on. You can imagine the quality, but I loved it.
I also kept a slim metal Sony Walkman, the kind that only played cassettes. It’s been broken for years but it puts me back on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan when I would walk a mile each way between the Port Authority and 61st Street for my first job in the city. In my head, I hear R.E.M.’s “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.”
The MP3 players I kept remind me of a Christmas when my father gave each of our three children a different kind. One was Spider-Man-themed; another had controls in the shape of Mickey Mouse ears. And each player had different instructions to load the music. It sounds easy now, but in 2007 the process wasn’t so obvious and I had three 7-year-olds clamoring to hear their favorite songs on their own devices. Which makes me wonder: just what did they listen to at that age?
An item I wish I had kept was my first cell phone. As an employee at AT&T when cell phones were first introduced in the early '90s, I got a good deal on one as well as the service. Although it meant carrying a brick-sized phone in my purse, calling a friend during a long commute home was pretty novel, bad connection notwithstanding.
I’ve lost count of the cell phones that followed but I did save a few – such as my Motorola Razr phone and metallic pink BlackBerry. Those phones weren’t any good for taking photos, so my children were spared having their every move captured. But they were the first devices I used when I figured out the usefulness of texting. I also kept the first phone my son, Christian, got in seventh grade, when we parents worried if giving cell phones to kids was a mistake.
The latest – and maybe last – item to go on the tech pile is my iPod. Apple ceased its production this year, so I believe it deserves a place in my collection. I’m not very sentimental about it because I didn’t use it much; at the time I was up to my eyeballs raising kids and working and maintaining a home. But it was a game changer for portable music and just plain nifty.
The item that started my collection was a transistor radio that only played AM stations. My kids still can’t grasp how narrow the music choices were during my childhood. But there was something nice about most of us knowing the same songs before the music industry became so fragmented.
Perhaps someone can give me a good suggestion on how to tastefully showcase my box of memories. I’d hate for it to end up in another pile in the basement. But with the renovation, at least it will have a tidy place to call home.