In the far northeast tip of Minnesota, about eight miles out from the small town of Ely, there lives a wretched old barn that defies death… and gravity. The crumbling wooden beast opens its mouth to a sort of storage zone for our family. This is the place where our possessions may be temporarily forgotten, but still just in reach, just in case. Over cold cement, up a rickety ladder, through a trap door and we’re in the careful-where-you-step attic.
The barn is where I tucked away my childhood. This most recent visit to my hometown, I thought our encounter would be brief; a few more boxes, a few more memories I’m not quite ready to part with would be carefully squirrel-proofed and nestled in nostalgia. Books and trinkets. Photographs. My first oil painting. Horses.
Horses. No, not the kind you’d expect to find in a barn. Growing up, I wasn’t the kind of kid who played with Barbies or baby dolls. I collected model horses. The living breathing creatures themselves fascinated me, but since a real horse was not negotiable, my younger self gathered pristine plastic figures. Our adventures were wild and dangerous journeys over the treacherous terrain of my bedroom.
When it came time to say goodbye, some part of me understood I was letting go of something indefinable. That moment I had waited so long for had finally arrived, and the horses were not invited to adulthood. I whispered a promise to them, under their plastic wrap and cardboard cases, that they were not forgotten. So, they waited.
On that latest hometown visit, I got to spend almost the entire time with my brother’s children. The youngest two, Alison (6) and Aubrielle (3), “helped” when I sent a few more boxes to the barn attic. Alison had been persistently asking about the horses. I don’t know how she knew what was waiting in that box, but I thought, why not? As it was carefully brought outside the barn, my nerves started to misfire and I felt this possessive urge to rush that box back to its dark home. But, my adult self chided that childish stirring. The horses had been hidden away for over a decade. What use were they to me? What value? The plastic figures were a reminder of my youth, with fond memories of play and fun. Nothing more. Nothing less.
When we got the box to the house and began unwrapping the animals, the girls were entirely absorbed. It was an interesting transition for me. I watched Alison’s face as she straightened blankets, brushed manes, and reunited foals with their families. I think that was the moment I realized my grasp on my possessions was weakening, and that was perfectly okay. Things don’t matter. Ultimately, life is about the relationships we nurture. These children are closer to my heart than anything else on this universe. They taught me a priceless lesson in letting go… Love conquers plastic.