Cleaning Attics

Leaning low, iPhone flashlight app lit, I step calculatingly into the crawl space off the study and grab the cardboard box and drag it out, almost in one continuous movement ---lunge forward; lunge back.

Black serpentine electrical cords are motionlessly writhing in the dust-covered box. Their existence is meaningless, separated from the parent machine they were created to power.

There’s a cream-colored cord almost dazzling in the black muck. It’s attached to an u-shaped hard plastic stand with tiny pillar in middle. A base and cord for an electric toothbrush. Did you know that the first electric toothbrush was invented in 1927? It didn’t get mass-marketed till the late 1950s? No, neither did I.

Memory is a fractured yet nimble process and the retrieval of encoded memory is a writer’s dusty box. And so it is with a disjointed memory of a summer in Northern Michigan when I was 21. It was my first visit to a dentist. In twenty years in India, I never had been to a dentist and had no cavities. I was beginning to think of myself as a superhero. Then that summer, living in a two-room apartment in the cheap side of town, playing Frisbee on deserted streets with a few friends, while my girlfriend worked at one of the fancy clothing stores that catered to the summer folk who lived in gated communities along Lake Michigan, I got an embedded wisdom tooth that needed extraction. That’s when I encountered the electric toothbrush.

It was a first sighting for me. An emblem of the first world. Since then I’ve read that the first mass-marketed versions in the US were for people with limited motor-skills! What was unique once was in the junkpile now.

Memories are sorted into junkpiles too. But that doesn’t mean that they are useless. Electric toothbrush charger, a clear-blue summer in Petoskey, my girlfriend then, who is a grandmother of two today, and me with shoulder-length hair with a handmade braided headband, and round granny glasses, are memories worth diving for into the musty crawl space.