[Editor's note: In the previous installment of this column, Gene shared memorabilia from a shoebox he discovered when he made a recent—and final—visit to his childhood home after his mother's passing. This is part two.]
My mother never really wanted to be a nurse. It was, in her mind, the least offensive of the three career choices open to woman of her day: teacher, secretary, or nurse.
My mother wasn't exactly the sentimental type. So when it came time to go through her papers, I knew I would find plenty of receipts and cancelled checks, but little in the way of ephemera or memorabilia.
Yet on the last trip I made to my childhood home, I finally scored something more emotional than old tax returns.
My father was such a boy scout. I'm sure he had a lot of merit badges, and when it came to craftiness and resourcefulness, there wasn't much he couldn't do or wouldn't tackle. He built a boat, he made two guitars, he fixed clocks and picked locks and carved his own pipe. Among his many hobbies was leather-crafting.
Every so often you could expect a gift of his workmanship in the form of a customized belt, a billfold, or a unique case for one of your treasures. So it was with great delight I recently came upon my father's leather-making supplies in a homemade wooden box of his own design.
The first bicycle I chose for myself was a Schwinn Varsity ten-speed model in a color called "campus green." I paid for it in part with money I earned mowing the neighbor's lawn and cleaning our pool. In those days a bicycle was essential transportation for kids, who were actually allowed to go places by themselves.
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I was christened a junior, although fortunately never called one. I sometimes wonder what it says about a man when he names his son after himself. But at the time I was born, it was pretty common. I imagine my father pictured a bushy and prosperous branch of the family tree springing from his namesake.
I always wanted to be the kid in the back of the classroom who drew airplanes and tanks and soldiers instead of listening to the geography lesson. Instead, I was the one with my hand raised, and the closest I got to drawing was filling in little round circles with a yellow number 2 pencil.
Regular readers of this column know I’m a sucker for corny clip art, especially if it began life as a metal printer’s cut. I could fill every week’s effort with such art, but like a cappella music, corny clip art is best enjoyed in small doses.
When I grew up, our house was anything but colorful. Everything that could be painted was painted beige. Furniture was either beige or white, and accessories such as lamps and tables were either beige or wood. We didn’t have colors such as “eggshell” and “dusty winter,” we had beige. In fact, if I were to choose a title for my autobiography, it would probably be Growing Up Beige.
When I die and go to my Heaven, it’s going to look like a store in Berkeley, California, called Urban Ore, a three-acre complex of other people’s discards that are just shy of being deemed junk. The store will also be someone else’s Hell, I’m quite sure.
You’ll find pink toilets, French doors, bay windows, and working laserdisc players at Urban Ore, along with just about anything else you can imagine someone once owning, and a few things you can’t. I go there as often as I can, for the tapestry of goods at Urban Ore is ever-changing.