Downsizing, Episode 1
With a seventieth birthday just three months away, I decided a few weeks ago to start downsizing, beginning with the closets crammed full of memorabilia. It would be easier, I thought, to shrink the scrapbook collection than to reduce the number of the photo albums or journals.
Twenty scrapbooks, standing vertically and in chronological order, fill six feet of shelving in the guest bedroom closet—next to the school yearbooks. Another twelve—the overflow volumes of more recent years—occupy the living room closet, along with thirty photo albums. My journals fill the office shelves.
My plan for the scrapbooks: choose the most important scraps, scan them, and create a Shutterfly book or two out of the thirty-two bulky volumes. Voila! I would have completed Downsizing Step One.
Today is the day I begin. My goal for this first morning: choose the important items from the first volume, and perhaps begin scanning or photographing some of them before having lunch with Marlo. I throw open the closet’s folding doors, tug down the volume on the far left, and lug it to my leather recliner.
I switch on the floor lamp and flip back the cover. In large black print, the title page says, “High School Mementoes of Carol Addink.”
Addink. . . Forty-two years after switching to “Van Klompenburg” that surname looks absurdly short. My four-syllable replacement surname now feels as comfortable as my fur-lined slippers.
I wonder: Did I create this collection the summer after high school graduation? I think so, but I’m not sure.
I flip to the next page and a tattered magazine cover greets me—a yellow road which curves around a tree and pond toward the horizon. Dotting the road, the grass, the pond, and the sky are eighty-five fantasy creatures—a flying horse, a football stage coach, a scurrying bundt cake. . . .
I study the creatures, moved by a profound affection as I study a bird wearing a crown, a flying stick of butter, two buffalo with halos.
I remember across the decades: I pondered over this photo a long time, working to decipher its word puzzles.
It is a cover of rebuses—pictures which represent a word or phrase as visual puns. The football with old-fashioned wheels is a football coach. The flying horse is a horse fly. And the scurrying bundt cake is hasty pudding.
Hasty pudding. That one stumped me as a kid. I had to look it up in the answer page. I had never heard of hasty pudding.
I was a stubborn child, returning to the picture again and again before relenting and consulting the solution for the final five or so rebuses I could not solve.
I had to look up those buffalos with halos. And I still remember that answer too. The answer was “good gnus” (news)! “Gnus” was a word I had never met before—and I don’t recall ever using it in the decades since.
What magazine was this? I apparently snipped off the magazine name to reduce the cover’s size before pasting it into the scrap book.
It was a magazine that came for my brothers, a Boy Scout magazine. Boy’s Life. That’s it. Boy’s Life!
I work my way through the rebuses, until I have solved most, but not all.
How can I solve the remaining rebuses? I wonder if Google can help me? I take a photo of the cover and submit it to Google images. Google says, “Not found. Category: cartoon.”
After more Google sleuthing, I discover that this was the cover for the April 1959 issue of Boy’s Life. And it is still being published! I email the magazine editors, asking if they can provide me with the key.
But I am impatient. I Google some more, this time with the search term “April 1959 Boys Life key for cover puzzle” and I am taken to Google books, page 71 of the issue. There it is. The key! I print the screen, and work with the image in Photoshop until I have a printable version of the rebus key. I notify the magazine editors to disregard my request.
I try one more time to solve the remaining rebuses, and then look up the ones I cannot solve or am not sure of.
Yes! That man in a suit gesticulating wildly at the mound of dirt is indeed a bank teller.
The key also tells me the mysterious running ruler is “good measure.” That makes sense. I never would have gotten it, though. And that beggar with a tin cup is “needing (kneading) dough.” That one is an awfully big stretch. I wouldn’t have included it in the picture.
That running tube is “fast color.” Fast color? Fast color? Color-fast is a word I know, but not fast color. I think perhaps there is an error here.
Each rebus solved, I think about the magazine. The April 1959 issue? I was only eleven years old. I must have saved this cover for years, and then included it in my high school album because it was important to me.
Hmmmm. When I was eleven we were dirt poor. Why did my parents splurge on a kids’ magazine? And one aimed at only boys? I don’t even remember any of my brothers being a scout. And we never got a magazine for my sisters and me.
My brother Marv has a fly-paper memory. Maybe he will know.
I email him to inquire.
As I click “send,” Marlo ascends from the basement and heads for the refrigerator to pull out some leftovers. It’s time for lunch.
I look at the newly printed Rebus key and insert it into the scrapbook next to the Rebus puzzle.
Perhaps my afternoon agenda should include this item: rethinking goals for shrinking the scrapbook collection.