Jumping Back Into Time

When it comes to throwing out children's toys, some are harder to part with than others. What should you throw out?

Last weekend, I wore a winter jacket to my younger son's Little League game, and my friend and I huddled in the bleachers under a fleece blanket.  Monday, it felt like summer with balmy temperatures in the 80s and I wore my sandals. Now, for two days more cold rain.  Yes, it’s spring in New Jersey and despite the bipolar weather I've been overcome with an urge to do spring cleaning.

I looked around our house and yard. What could be thrown out? What had rotted but could be replaced with something green and fertile? Out on the front porch, the flowerpots were filled with dirt. I circled back to the patio, picking up baseballs that that had been buried under snow-covered bushes. One of our hockey nets had been run over by a snowplow, and thrown onto its back into the yard. I looked past it to the trampoline and swing set, which looked forlorn and abandoned.

My kids are almost 11 and 15. They haven't gone down a slide or swung on a swing in years. In my heart, I know the swing set should be dismantled and taken away, but my husband "designed" it with the help of Cedar Works at the end of the last century. I know he's still attached to it, even though no one else is. I guess there's a remote chance our grandkids will climb on it some day, if I can't get my husband to sell the house and move to the city the minute our youngest goes to college. The trampoline, on the other hand, had pretty much outlived its usefulness.

The trampoline was a gift from my father. It was the kind of gift my father specialized in: Bulky, extravagant, dangerous and unexpected. We didn't know we were getting it until a truck drove up with it one afternoon. My kids loved it immediately. My father also bought a trampoline for my nephews in Montclair, and all five grandsons took turns at each other's houses, jumping up and down on the things, screaming with glee. I have a beautiful collage of pictures, taken one spring day after the trampoline was assembled. The sun is setting and there are my kids, racing around the trampoline, jumping for joy. They look ecstatic.

Two years after he gave us the trampoline, my father died of lymphoma.  My kids kept jumping on the trampoline. My husband and our neighbor traded stories about kids ramming into each other on other trampolines and breaking elbows and wrists. They said the trampoline was dangerous, but it made my kids happy, and I was glad we had it. It was a pleasant reminder of my father, who had not always been so pleasant. While he was generous and fun, he could be volatile and combative.  My sons remember him fondly. He often showed up unannounced, bearing gifts and clutches of $20 bills. My kids were still in car seats at the time and the money seemed like a fortune to them. Grandpa must have a treasure chest in the trunk of his car! I've worked hard to protect my kids from their grandfather's less appealing qualities. When he died, my boys gave loving eulogies at his funeral and dwelled on his death for a long time. But they don't talk about him much anymore, and it's been a long time since they jumped on the trampoline.

Meanwhile, the weather had not been kind to it. It had started to rust. Puddles of water and piles of dead leaves covered it. Screws had fallen to the ground. Pieces of black foam were scattered around the yard. The grass beneath it died and turned to mud. Nothing about it said, "Come play."

I called a man to take it away. We will call him Leonard, because he reminds me of the singer Leonard Cohen. He has long hair and his clothes are too big but he has chiseled cheekbones and large blue eyes. He is handsome and intelligent. I don’t know what his background is but he has a mellifluous and stunningly beautiful speaking voice. Every time he calls, I replay his message.

Leonard called twice to confirm our address. He apologized, but said his memory was shot. The next day, he pulled into the back of our driveway. He looked down the hill at the trampoline and said that because he didn't live in town, I would have to get a permit so he could take the trampoline parts to the town dump. I said this looked like a big job for one guy. Leonard said he had brought his tools.

My younger son was home sick that morning, lying on the couch and reading The Firm. When I told him that the trampoline was being taken apart and thrown away, he barely looked up. I did not remind him that his grandfather had given it to him and his brother, and that other than some hardcover books about Jewish history, that trampoline was his grandfather's only legacy to them.

Two hours later, Leonard rang the bell and said he was done. I went outside. The sun had gone behind a cloud. The trampoline was in pieces underneath a tarp, in the back of his truck.

“I think I dropped my switchblade,” he said nonchalantly.


“Yeah, I couldn’t find it but I didn’t want to take any more of your time.”

“There’s a knife down there somewhere?” I started to panic. The ground was covered with snow. “We need to find it.”

“You’re worried about the kids?” he said.

“Uh, yeah. You don't remember where you dropped it?”

“I have Alzheimer's, I can't remember anything, my short term memory is shot.”

“Have you been diagnosed?”

“I'm taking pills so yeah, I guess I've been diagnosed.”

We spent a few minutes talking looking for the knife. I could tell he wanted to get out of there. “Maybe when the snow melts, you’ll find it,” he said. I looked into his eyes. He always seemed too smart to do what he was doing, and now he seemed too young to have Alzheimer's.

“Maybe.” I didn’t feel hopeful. I paid him and got into my car. He pulled out behind me. I followed him to the dump and got the permit. He had already dumped the trampoline into the dumpster by the time I got back. I waved goodbye and drove away.

When I got home, I saw that my friend had dropped off six boxes of Girl Scout cookies. My son didn't want any so I stood in the kitchen alone and ate some Thin Mints and Tagalong Peanut Butter Patty.

When older son came home from school, I told him about the trampoline. "Oh," he said. "I wanted to say goodbye."

That night, my eyelids and nose swelled. My cheeks felt sunburned and tight, the skin around my lips started to peel. I was having an allergic reaction, but to what? I had eaten boxes of Girl Scout cookies before without incident. Was I allergic to the process of spring cleaning? My kids growing up? Was my unconscious hounding me because I just thrown out my father's biggest gift to my kids?

Leonard called the next day to say he'd found the switch blade in his pocket.

Yesterday morning, I raised the shade in our bedroom and looked outside. The trampoline was gone. I had a bird's eye view of the swing set. The back yard looked green but empty.

Before he died, my father also gave us a volleyball net, but between the trampoline and the swing set, we had no room for it. My husband propped the box against a wall in the garage and we forgot about it. My father has been dead almost six years but the volleyball net is still here, good as new. There's room for it near the swing set.

What toys should you throw out and what should you keep?

bette April 17, 2011 at 11:29 PM
A very poignant piece. The memory of a grandfather linked to the trampoline. All things wither and decay, but this makes room for the new.
Carole Balin April 19, 2011 at 02:22 AM
I've been dreading the inevitable day when I'll be purgong our family room closet of its board games, Hess trucks, art supplies and blocks. But living in a smnallish NYC apartment with 3 children growing heads taller than their Mom, the pragmatist in me covets that space. Can i let go of those objects and keep those memories tethered to my heart?
Victoria Plummer April 19, 2011 at 11:51 AM
What a beautifully written and moving piece. Thank you.
Joanne Smythe April 21, 2011 at 06:13 AM
Fantastic piece Laura, thanks for writing and sharing it!
Dori Cowan November 16, 2011 at 01:26 AM
Another great article. I am not good at parting with sentimental items. This is a mighty struggle for me. Thank you for giving a voice to this dimension of mothering.


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