Vintage GI Joe

Advocate owner Rick Wamre’s actual childhood GI Joe, complete with pajamas hand-made by his mother. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Those “hoarder” shows on television are something, aren’t they?

The lifestyle is both fascinating and frightening: What people save, and why they save it, sometimes stretches the boundaries of sanity.

I bring this up because I just returned from a trip to my childhood home, a Minnesota farm where my parents lived for 57 years. The time had come to move them to a place that doesn’t require maintenance and snow-shoveling, a place with a single closet as opposed to four huge farm storage buildings. It was time to go through a half-century of “treasures” one final time.

Somewhere along the line, Mom made a conscious but frequently questioned decision: She decided to save everything — gloves and caps we wore at age 10 during our 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily cattle-feeding shifts. Ancient snowmobile suits. Dusty rain boots. All hanging on the same hooks we last hung them on 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.

And the closets in our bedrooms — I kid you not when I tell you that I could model my entire 10th grade wardrobe right now. Mom saved everything, “just in case.”

Mom always talked reverentially about “the grainery,” a farm building ostensibly built to hold oats and wheat between harvest and sale. Every time she mentioned the grainery, my sisters and I cringed: The building had become little more than a dusty, rodent-scented black hole, a place where Mom kept her most precious things in boxes and bags.

Trips to visit us in Texas always involved the interstate transfer of goods from the grainery. My first typewriter from college turned up. My report card from second grade. The first Polaroid camera I received for Christmas, along with the first tiny black-and-white instant photos that popped out of it.

“Why keep all of this stuff?” we asked Mom over the years.

Even Dad joined in the chorus: “Mother, no one wants any of that stuff.”

So it was on my last trip up the grainery’s wood steps, Mom unable to supervise due to back woes. And on a final search-or-forever-destroy mission, I scrounged through her treasures.

There was my original G.I. Joe, lovingly packed in a re-sealable freezer bag and wearing the brightly colored and definitely not Army-issued pajamas my mom sewed for him. There was an old yellow Tonka truck I played with daily as a kid. There were boxes of green plastic soldiers that many times over helped me protect the United States from foreign incursion.

I laughed out loud at what she had saved. I remembered every one of those things — each took me back to when the only thing on my “to do” list was to have fun.

And it was at that point I realized something that eluded me all of these years: I imagine every trip to the grainery reminded Mom of those long-ago days, too, back when her hair was dark, her skin was smooth and the days ahead seemed endless.

It took me until this last trip to our farm, sadly sifting through 57 years of tangible memories, to realize the singular difference between Mom and the TV hoarders.

She saved that stuff not for herself but for us. It was her way of making sure we remembered where we came from and who we are.

Thanks for not listening to us all of those years, Mom.

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