Cleaning out the Museum of My Childhood
'Start throwing out all your crap-ola,' ordered our CBC/QWF writer-in-residence's mom. A hurricane ensued
This is the third in a series of blog posts by the 2018 CBC Montreal/Quebec Writers' Federation writer-in-residence, Joshua Levy.
The Museum of My Childhood was a collection of ordinary objects pinned to walls, arranged on shelves and crammed into cupboards: a California Raisin saxophonist; a florescent-green, slap-on bracelet; autographed Patrick Roy and Wayne Gretzky jerseys.
Dolls. Books. Empty CD cases. A Klingon action figure with a gnawed left foot, mangled in a long-ago battle with Max, our family dog. Love letters tucked inside their original scented envelopes. The entire set of colour-coded Canadian Red Cross Water Safety Level Badges.
The museum was confined to a single bedroom with built-in furniture and sandy brown, snakeskin-patterned wallpaper.
The objects came from voyages taken by grandparents, from birthday party loot bags, from university gift shops, all of them acquired over the span of four decades, from the 1980s through to the dying days of June 2017.
That's when the museum was destroyed in a hurricane of garbage bags and heavy sighs.
I was the museum's curator — some might say hoarder. Therefore, the responsibility fell onto my shoulders to serve as its wrecking ball, its firing squad, its …
"Stop being so dramatic," my mom said, rolling her eyes in the doorway. "And start throwing out all your crap-ola. It's time, Josh. Don't you think?!"
If my mom has a nostalgic bone in her body, it is small and seldom used. I, on the other hand, am made up mostly of nostalgic bones and a smattering of ribs.
Standing in my childhood bedroom in those final days before the new owners moved in, every nostalgic bone in my body ached.
I had picked this bedroom, 32 years earlier, because it had five windows, and I was about to turn five years old. Such is the logic of a child.
My little brother, two at the time, got the room next door. Soon my sister was born, and she nabbed the last remaining bedroom.
Although nearly a decade had gone by since my siblings and I had moved out, our parents' house remained home base for the Levys.
The idea of another family living here made me queasy — after all, they hadn't spent a lifetime learning to decipher every creak in the floors, every hum in the walls, or who was approaching a shut door by the weight and speed of the footsteps.
This house was where my mom perfected countless recipes, and my dad dreamed up a generation's worth of bedtime stories for us. This was where my siblings and I laughed, cried and fought. This was where our pets had lived: Max's ashes are buried under a tree in the backyard.
With a garbage bag hand, I reluctantly began to throw out my childhood.
I made sure to inspect each page before discarding it, searching for hidden treasures — doodles, poem fragments, loose photographs that were too precious to throw away.
It took me two days to tunnel through my university years and three more to tackle high school. I was an archaeologist, digging down through the layers, rediscovering the artifacts of my youth.
"I feel like I'm betraying myself by throwing all this away," I texted my wife.
"Take pictures," she suggested. "Digitize your childhood. But discard the stuff."
These are artifacts from Joshua Levy's childhood museum — relegated to the bin, at last.
Ex-girlfriends in a box
At the back of the cupboard, I found a plastic toolbox stuffed with letters and handmade gifts.
Sitting cross-legged on the carpet, I read a letter from my first girlfriend. I love you, I love you, I love you, Josh, she had written in her unmistakable cursive. I love you always and forever. Xoxoxo.
I ran my fingers over her words while absent-mindedly twisting my wedding ring around my finger.
I began reading another letter, from a later girlfriend, then stopped. It felt voyeuristic.
These letters were not meant for me — at least, not the me that I had become.
"Their" Josh was a guy in his early 20s. I was an almost middle-aged, happily married man.
I felt as if I were trespassing in someone else's closet.
Who's living in my childhood home?
My parents now live in a condo. They are happy there, which makes me happy.
But as the months ticked by, I kept wondering who was now living in our old house.
So I decided to find out.
One day, I rang the doorbell. My heart was racing. A man wearing a robe with "Doctor Jeff" stitched on the breast pocket came to the door.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"I'm a writer. My family used to live here," I stuttered.
"Can I, um, see my childhood bedroom?"
He looked me up and down for an eternal second.
"I suppose so. Come on in."
I couldn't believe my luck.
The circle of life
"Doctor Jeff" gave me a tour.
New furniture. Stained floors. Freshly painted walls.
They had two children, he told me: one was five, and the other was two. His wife wanted to try for a third.
"You know," he said, motioning towards my sister's old room, "to fill up all the rooms."
I nodded, as if it made sense to me. It didn't.
"So, do you love the house?" I asked.
We reached my bedroom. I took a deep breath and pushed open the door.
The windows were obscured by blinds; the built-ins were gone, and the bed was on the wrong side of the room.
I would not have been able to pick my bedroom out of a police lineup.
"Bring back memories?"
"No," I said. "None."
Back in my car, I thought about Doctor Jeff's kids.
I was excited for them to grow up in that house. Incredibly, they were the exact same age that my brother and I had been when we had moved in.
The circle of life can be quite poetic. It was time for the next generation to enjoy life between those walls.
I had found closure.
My phone rang. It was my wife.
"Are you almost here? We are all waiting for you to start dinner."
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Learn more about the author: Meet Joshua Levy, CBC/QWF's 2018 writer-in-residence or visit his website.