Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Childhood Shoebox Fetish

When I was in third grade, they split the “fast group” and the “slow group” between two classrooms, and we switched rooms after lunch. (Yes, they really did label us those groups. I wonder how that made the kids in the slow group feel.)

In order to facilitate the daily classroom swap, Mrs. Willenbring gave us all shoeboxes in which to keep our personal school supplies and other effects, so we could easily shuttle everything back and forth. She had a whole closet full of shoeboxes, and somehow I developed an obsession with them.

I used to love to organize my things in the shoebox, including candy and other personal treasures. Once, I even rigged a tampering detector for my box using rubber bands and paper clips, and I really hoped to catch a girl going through my stuff, but somehow none of them ever seemed interested enough.

To Mrs. Willenbring’s dismay, every few weeks I would ask for a new shoebox. I was like a hermit crab that regularly needed to upgrade its shell. I didn’t necessarily need a bigger box, just something fresh and new.

Before long, I was collecting my own shoeboxes at home, and I organized all my little boyhood knickknacks into shoeboxes in my closet, sometimes labeling the contents on the outside with Magic Marker (I loved both the smell of the pen and the leathery new-shoe smell of the boxes). Every few weeks, my idea of a fun Saturday morning was to dump everything out of my shoeboxes and reorganize everything. The most valuable things—money, Bubble Yum—went into a little wooden treasure chest my parents brought me home from Mexico, which would make everything stored inside it smell and taste of its potent dark-brown stain.

Then I would vacuum my half of the room and rake the shag so I could see any footprints left behind if my brother Andrew snuck onto my side. One spot where I’d spilled hamster litter drove me nuts, because little specks of green-tinted sawdust would dance in the air no matter how many times I ran the vacuum over it.

To this day, I still feel a little rush of excitement when I see a freshly discarded shoebox, but I’ve learned not to collect them anymore.


Anonymous said...

"Yes, they really did label us those groups. I wonder how that made the kids in the slow group feel."

I suppose thirty-odd years back, "slow" was a current euphemism. "Those kids aren't dumb, they're just, well, just kind of slow. Not as fast as some other kids." And thus it goes. We look for new terms to express uncomfortable ideas that don't carry old baggage, but we're still talking about the some old uncomfortable things that caused the old terms for them to accumulate baggage. The new terms will have a limited period of usefulness.

Anonymous said...

You are psycho.

Anonymous said...

I now know what to get you for Christmas. I'm going to write Sarah Palin and ask her if I can have one of her shoe boxes. Actually, I may end up keeping it for myself.