I’ll admit it. Cleaning our closets can be a bit of an adventure. It’s like an archaeological dig with clothing mixed in, where anything can pop up and often does. Forgotten games. Battered sneakers. Barely-legible notebooks that detail either the next great bestseller or last year’s Oscar winners.
I haven’t found any cameras from the moon landing, though. There, as in so many other ways, Neil Armstrong was in a class by himself.
In case you missed it – maybe your chores took a while, too – it seems that Armstrong’s widow Carol found an old bag while doing some closet-cleaning of her own. Inside were about 20 small pieces of gear that had gone to the moon with Armstrong. A mirror. Some tethers. An emergency wrench. And, yes, the camera used to record the Eagle’s final approach to the landing site.
Hey, some people take pens home from the office, right?
Now I know that to some folks, this probably sounds like an episode of Hoarders: The Final Frontier. But I can sympathize. It’s hard not to hang on to the small and not-so-small things that mark a memory.
In one of my own closets is an oversized map, one that would probably dominate any wall I tried to put it up on. The map depicts the after-effects of the 2013 flood, laying out the needed repairs in point-by-point detail. I used it for a story long ago, then put it away, planning to frame it someday.
These days, it’s become a frame, holding the larger pictures of my mind.
Other moments lie similarly “archived” from a lifetime of journalism and theatre. An aluminum can from an Emporia, Kan. factory that was never built. A spice jar of dry soil from a Garden City, Kan. “dirt collector” I interviewed. A sheaf of parodies, written for theatre cast parties so we could all laugh at our trials and triumphs.
Sure, it’s easy to accumulate stuff. I do it without even trying. (Just ask Heather.) But these are the things that go beyond mere stuff, the pieces that become memory in a tangible form. Where simply holding them and looking at them can bring back a moment, an event, a face.
You’ve got one somewhere. We all do. Maybe more than one.
And each one is the doorway to a journey of our own. Inward, not outward. Through time, not space.
But in that moment of rediscovery after a long absence, it can feel like the Eagle landing all over again.
It gives me a little comfort to know that Armstrong was the same way. Even in this cynical day and age, there’s still the temptation to lionize our heroes, to paper over the cracks and sand off the rough edges. It’s an unfortunate distancing, since it robs us of a certain kinship, a knowledge that, under different circumstances, it might have been any of us up there.
Well, probably not me. Not without some major improvements to my sense of direction. (“Houston, the Eagle has landed … somewhere.”) But you get the idea.
He was human. He gathered a few mementos in a bag, passed it off to NASA as “odds and ends” –you know, just keeping the clutter down – and took it home as a keepsake.
Which he then threw in the back of a closet and left for his wife to find. That, too, is very human.
Because of that, we’ve gained something neat. A few small artifacts. A chuckle at people being people. Maybe even a sense of wonder at how an ordinary moment can become unforgettable with just one forgotten bag.
And of course, the best closet-preservation excuse ever.
“I swear, honey, the Smithsonian’s going to want that bag someday. Look, I’ll take care of it later, all right?”
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.