When I Need Nostalgia, I Look No Further Than My Mom's Basement

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 

When my mother was pregnant with me, my grandmother cross-stitched a blanket for me. From the time I was a baby, it was my very favorite thing. I called it my “white one” and I carried it with me everywhere that I went. The white one had seen some things in its tenure as my creature comfort. It was tattered and torn and just a hot mess. I eventually outgrew it and just kind of assumed that my mother threw it away.

When I was pregnant with my first baby, she resurrected the white one and gave it to me. I couldn’t believe that she still had it. I had completely forgotten about it. No doubt it had been packed away for at least 20 years, but it all came flooding back to me. Its condition was worse than I remembered, but it felt so familiar in my hands. I had a warm feeling in my stomach just as I had as a little girl. My eyes welled up with tears. I was grateful to my mother for keeping it. She could have so easily tossed it, but the sentimental value was profound and she knew that I’d want it someday, no matter how worn out it was. She was right.

My mother has a knack for that sort of thing. She could always tell what was really important and what we could part with. In my lifetime with three brothers, there were countless toys and articles of clothing and special papers and school projects that came in and out of our house. If we paid particular attention to something she tucked it away, often without us noticing.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

When my daughter was born, after having three sons, she came to my house with Sherry Amelda, my treasured Cabbage Patch Kid. She still has her bright orange pigtails and soft baby powder scent. My mother thought that I might like to have her. I put her immediately in the baby’s nursery. My daughter is five now and Sherry Amelda is still in her room. She is a constant reminder of my childhood and the love that I had for that doll, and the love that I have for my daughter, and how it had all come full circle in 37 years.

It wasn’t just toys, though; she kept her eyes out for other special things. When I was in seventh grade, I got a pair of Guess Jeans. They were the first piece of designer clothing that I had ever owned and outrageously expensive. This was an extravagant treat that I knew was really a sacrifice for my mother. I was excited to have them and beamed with pride the first time that I wore them. They were tossed in a donation pile when I outgrew that phase, and turned more to the early ’90s grungy scene in flannel and Birks. My mother thoughtfully resurrected them and stashed them away. Now my daughter will be the queen during spirit week and her teachers will marvel at the fact that I still have those denim relics with the eye-catching upside down triangle on the behind.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

My Barbie Dream House is still in her basement, as is my old Girl Scout Uniform and my first pair of tap shoes. She has G.I. Joe guys and Care Bears, too. Remember Umbro shorts? There are a few pairs of those folded in a tub, and there might be a leather bomber jacket somewhere too. Old report cards and school projects and even college acceptance letters and school play programs. Yes, it is just stuff. But that “stuff” evokes an emotion that is hard to explain. There is the nostalgia factor, for sure, but it is more about the love of a mother for me. She knew her children so well and had a feeling in her heart that we would want a few pieces of our childhoods someday. I am modeling that behavior.

I have a tendency to want to keep everything. But as my children have gotten older, it has been easier to part with things that are seemingly unimportant or not impactful and to hold tight to that which they will want to remember someday. I have a special Mickey Mouse Christmas sweater that my son picked out after a vacation to Disney World because it reminded him of a fun trip. He wore it proudly for the entire Christmas season. That is going nowhere.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

In my kids’ special boxes, there are Thomas the Train shirts and first pairs of shoes. I have monogrammed baby sweaters in case any of my sons decide to have a junior (all of my brothers do). That special blanket that you held onto tightly, but were mortified that your friends saw? Don’t worry; it’s perfectly safe in a weatherproof tub in the basement. Some things are for me, and not them. I have never thrown away any artwork with a handprint. I can’t. That type of memory is imprinted on my heart. Maybe someday, but not today.

I have yet to go through the toys and have a big garage sale of things that are simply collecting dust. But I already have my eye on the items that will stay because my children’s children will love to play with them just like they play with our old Little People sets at my parents’ house. That means lots of Marvel guys and play sets and the American Girl collection will be taking up permanent residency someday. My husband disagrees, but I know that my children will appreciate it.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

As an adult, I understand the sentiment that these things hold for my mother. Your time parenting children goes so quickly and all you ask is for it to slow down, if even for a day. But we know that time is fleeting and it just goes faster and faster. By holding onto a few mementos of her children’s childhoods, she is able to relive a bit of what she calls the happiest days of her life. Without a doubt, I share that feeling.

When the time comes, I will let my children decide what stays and what goes. They may not want anything. And that is fine. But I believe that I have inherited my mother’s eye for keeping the important and I will do my best to hold back a few things here and there.

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Maybe those cowboy boots may serve your son well on Western day at school? Or, you may want to hold onto that tiny giraffe and feel its softness in your hands and be transported back to when life was simple. Maybe when you’re angry and frustrated, you will need a reminder of how much you loved your mom when you were little and put it all into words on the most beautiful handmade card she had ever received.

I know that it is stuff, but some stuff is important. I am so grateful to my mother for holding onto the stuff. Even after so many years, there are things that remain important to me. So as time goes by and I notice the things have a special attachment to, I will continue to hide them away in a safe place for a later time. You never know when someone will need a little blast from the past to make them feel a bit of comfort in the present.

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