I am an avid reader of the Sunday and daily funnies. Besides producing a smile and an occasional laugh, I am surprised how often I identify with a panel’s theme. Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman’s Sunday, October 29, 2017, “Zits” comic strip is a case in point.
The dialogue is as follows:
[Author’s Aside #1: “Zits” focuses on the Duncan family – Connie Duncan (the mother), Walter “Walt” Duncan (the dentist father), and Jeremy (their teenage son who is more interested in music than academic studies).]
Panel 1: Jeremy passing a box to his mother Connie who is kneeling by the attic entrance. “Jeremy: “HERE YOU GO MOM.” Connie: “THANKS, JEREMY.”
Panel 2: Jeremy looking around the attic from the top step of the attic entrance. Jeremy: ‘WHAT IS ALL THIS JUNK? Connie: “MOSTLY THINGS WE’RE SAVING FOR YOU.”
Panel 3: Connie explaining one of the boxes: “THESE BOXES ARE YOUR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PAPERS AND ART PROJECTS.”
Panel 4: Connie seated and pointing to a trunk: “THAT TRUNK IS WHERE I STORE YOUR MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL MEMORABILIA.”
Panel 5: Connie pointing to an expanded view of the attic that is filled with an old dresser, lamp, easy chair, clock, and more boxes: “AND WE THOUGHT YOU’D WANT ALL THIS OLD FURNITURE, PLUS GRANDMA’S CHINA CABINET AND KNICKNACKS [sic.] FOR YOUR FIRST APARTMENT.”
Panel 6: Jeremey talking to his mother: “MOM, MY FIRST ‘APARTMENT’ WILL BE A BACKPACK THAT I CARRY AROUND THE WORLD BETWEEN GIGS.”
Panel 7: Connie talking to Walt: “OUR ATTIC HAS BEEN LIVING A LIE.”
I was and am fortunate. From 1946 until September 1948, my family lived at my mother’s parents William F. D. and Elsie Prosser’s home at 717 High Street, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The house had an attic, a wonderful attic filled with furniture whose drawers were stuffed to the gills, numerous trunks and wardrobes, piles of framed photographs, prints, and documents, and other memorabilia associated with my mother and her sisters and brothers and earlier Prosser generations. In an era before television, the attic was my private playground. I found its treasures far more fascinating than playing outdoors with the other neighborhood children. The attic lives in my memory as an overview. With a few exceptions, I cannot remember most of its specific objects. If given the opportunity to go back in time, the High Street attic would be high on my list.
In the course of my professional career, I have been privileged to walk and crawl through hundreds of attics, some filled with great stuff and others with what can only be described as junk. No matter what I found, the sense of excitement and anticipation prior to entering the attic was exhilarating.
Unless one purchases an older home, attics are no longer a part of people’s lives. After leaving my grandparent Prosser’s house, I never lived in a home with an attic. I did have a crawl space in one home and basement storage rooms in two others. There is no comparison between the spaciousness of an attic and the limited confines of a crawl space or basement storage room. A garage stuffed with stuff so that no car can be housed in it is not an attic equivalent.
Attempts to determine a specific date or era for the demise of the attic were unsuccessful. Attics still were a popular feature in homes built prior to World War I. The attic’s demise most likely occurred in the 1920s and 1930s, certainly prior to World War II. The suburban track homes of the post-World War II period had roof truss framing that allowed little to no space for storage.
I was a member of the hand-me-down generation. My parents saved replaced working appliances, furniture, and other household goods until one of the members of our extended family set up housekeeping. I wore Cousin Charles’s shirts when he was done with them. It was my generation (the Silent Generation) that decided out children should have “new” rather than “old” things. Our children adopted the same attitude toward their children. It is our fault and not our grandchildren’s fault that they do not want the things we owned and saved.
Clearly, there is a relationship between the demise of the attic and the end of the hand-me-down era. The space available to save things and the memories associated with them from the past has diminished and continues to diminish with each passing generation.
Starting with second grade and ending with my PhD work at the University of Delaware in the 1970s, I saved and filed every piece of homework and classroom note I took. I never asked why or what I wanted to achieve by doing so. I just did it
[Author’s Aside #2: The above is not quite true. Deep in the back of my mind was the concept that if I ever became President of the United States, I could sell off the individual pages when I left office and create a small fortune. The concept of milking the speaking circuit did not exist at the time.]
I finally emptied the file cabinet drawers and discarded of my childhood, adolescent, and young adulthood school notes and tests when I moved from Vera Cruz, Pennsylvania, to Kentwood, Michigan. Much to my surprise, I do not feel its loss. Further, I try not to think of the costs involved in storing and moving this material almost half a dozen times since its creation.
During this past year, Linda and I have been organizing our personal papers. As members of a “do not throw out the memories” generation, we have the baby books our mothers assembled. Linda found her junior-senior high school scrapbook. The pulp paper pages were flaking at the edges. She spent hours with it. Although she realizes the material has no meaning other than to her, she put it back into storage. “I know my children will throw it out, but I cannot,” she said. When looking for something in one of our storage rooms recently, I came across two boxes marked “Boy Scout Material.” I made a mental note to go through it someday, in this case, someday most likely means never.
Instead of going to auctions, I now frequent estate sales. Each time I go, I am astonished at the amount of personal material such as family photographs and personal correspondence that no one wants, especially the heirs. I try hard to resist the temptation to buy. The “if no one else will save this, I will” philosophy is an inherent part of my mental mantra. Last year, I filled an archival file box with such material.
Connie Duncan’s final comment that “OUR ATTIC HAS BEEN LIVING A LIE” is a lie. Connie is the problem not the attic. In the 21st century, the concept that parents can predetermine what their children or grandchildren will want is a fallacy. Parental control over such matters vanished in the mid-20th century. Independence comes with the right to say no.
The parents of my generation and the one that followed understood their ability to directly influence their children’s taste. Conformity and the norm were keys to family and social stability. The 1960s and 1970s changed this. The “Rebellious” generation belittled and disavowed the past. Little did they realize the social consequences of the generation’s battle cry of “Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30.”
The old adage of “be careful what you wish for” proved true. Each succeeding generation now imposes new “correctness” standards on previous generations. Most of what I was taught was right is now wrong. As the “adult” in this situation, I am the one that is supposed to change. The older I get, the harder it is to do.
Long-time collectors understand this. With each passing year, more and more traditional collecting categories are failing to attract younger collectors. What once was prized is now “junk.”
Connie Duncan’s answer to her son Jeremy’s inquiry of WHAT IS ALL THIS JUNK?” should have been: “THESE ARE YOUR DAD’S AND MY MEMORIES OF YOU. WE SAVED THEM IN HOPES THAT SOMEDAY YOU WOULD APPRECIATE THEM AND WISH TO OWN THEM. I KNOW MY EXPECTATIONS ARE UNREALISTIC. BUT, I AM A MEMBER OF A GENERATION THAT RESPECTS AND PRESERVES THE PAST IN THE HOPE IT CAN HELP FUTURE GENERATIONS UNDERSTAND BETTER WHO THEY ARE. MY GENERATION DID NOT LIVE IN ISOLATION. IT SADDENS ME TO LEARN YOUR GENERATION DOES.”
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Selected letters will be answered in this column. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You also can e-mail your questions to email@example.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. You can listen and participate in WHATCHA GOT?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time. If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com.