September 27, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Finding lost time

By |2018-03-21T19:02:12+01:00August 31st, 2014|"American Girl"|
Wearing a "Feels So Good" T-shirt, never mind the words.

bove my washing machine is a closet I built for storage. There, important boxes from my past are stacked and nicely labeled.

Many I haven’t opened for years and I wonder what’s inside them. I find I’m not especially motivated to look, feeling more self-satisfied with the out-of-the way order I’ve created.

But last week I had the courage to open one box that I knew held memorabilia with a special charge. I kept it way in the back and out of sight. In it were items I saved from my first trip to Europe when I was 19. I had gone by myself hitch-hiking and I considered the trip a complete disaster.

I took the stepladder and reached to the far back and brought down the brown box. As I took the tape off the seam, the memories I’d kept far away crept out.

The blue T-shirt I wore looked stiff and stale. I held it up and examined it. I liked the musician Chuck Mangione, and the title of his major hit, “Feels So Good,” was printed on the front. A silhouette of him with his trumpet and hat was on the back.

I recalled wearing this shirt, standing on the side of the road with my thumb out, hitching for a ride. I never considered what the words might be suggesting.

My shorts were there too. A tiny navy pair with silver cinches that belonged to the body of a skinny teenager. It was still years before my hips filled out, moving from that of a girl to a woman. I decided to try them on for perspective. I smiled as they just made it to my knees.

There was a guidebook from Neuschwanstein Castle, the iconic turreted castle nestled in the Bavarian Alps. I recalled the winding drive to the promontory and walking into the grey stillness. The stone rooms were remarkably cold. I was in this magical castle, but felt dismally alone.

The box also held a journal I kept with a red gilded cover. The inside flap was inked with a quote by Goethe. “Whatever you can do, or dream, you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

I recalled the innocence with which I took to the continent, believing only good would come my way as long as I thought good thoughts. Reading the lines reminded me of how easily happy axioms fail. I didn’t have the heart to read beyond the cover page.

I found it all strangely painful to look at and relive. It made me wonder why I still held on to these things, items that conjured painful memories and innocence lost.

Perhaps I hoped my older self would look at these reminders and judge the trip less harshly. Rather than seeing a naïve and mistaken journey, it would see courage and curiosity, determination and desire. That time would put things in perspective and I might recognize the adventure as an early effort to live my own determined life.

I pondered this question as I replaced each item carefully and resealed the box. With a stepladder, I returned it to its place in the back on the top shelf.

One day I’ll not need these reminders and I’ll toss it all away. But not just yet, not today.

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.