The Granite Attic

In this age of storage units and overpacked garages, the “attic” has become a cartoon cliché. But real attics hold more than just stuff

My parents nearly always took my siblings and me to our grandmother’s house in Shreveport, Louisiana, to celebrate Christmas.

“Grandmother” is what we actually called my mother’s mom, which might tip you off to the fact that the holidays there were somewhat formal in tone. Even so, young minds find plenty to amuse themselves, even when table manners are enforced and the Christmas tree is divided between the adult side and the child side by placing it in a doorway leading out to the sunporch.

One place where such antebellum formalities completely embraced the childish imagination was behind a half-height door on the landing at the top of some curving stairs: the entrance to Grandmother’s attic.

My siblings and I would retreat there at least once each visit, and we’d dig through the old steamer trunks and examine cardboard boxes of faded photos and worn albums, discarded souvenirs from Grandmother’s world travels, a rack of Granddaddy Dan’s military uniforms — fragrant with mothballs — and many objects we didn’t even know what to call.

The only light (unless one of us had snagged a toy flashlight as a stocking stuffer) was a single bare bulb and the translucent panes of a small window all the way at the back of the attic, but some of my most vivid memories are of journeys into that realm.

We lament the loss of many things that time and technology have erased (remember the “party line” on a small-town phone?) but you rarely hear a eulogy for the attic.

With all the stuff we accumulate these days, it’s a quaint notion we could fit it all into one tight and hard-to-access space. Now we have two-car garages with no room for cars plus stuffed storage units.

Maybe we were more careful about what we kept back then, or maybe we just didn’t have as much stuff to deal with, but the attic’s role as a family museum, curated by the sheer erosion of time, sadly seems to be a thing of the past.

Since moving to New Hampshire three decades ago and getting the job of editing this magazine nearly a quarter of a century ago, I’ve often made associations between the Granite State and Grandmother’s attic. New England (and New Hampshire — its heart) is a place where things tend to remain where they are set down, and where old age still has positive associations. So many of the relics of America’s past are stored here and are still accessible to the young, the newcomer, the immigrant.

My siblings and I learned much from those boxes of memorabilia: places my grandparents (and mom) had been, what they valued, how fit and trim my grandfather had been back in his military days.

After Grandmother died, the attic loot was either dumped or distributed. Some attic items wound up here in my home in Concord and some are now stored in our attic (well, the loft in our garage).

But it wasn’t really the stuff that I remember from those Christmas visits to the attic. It was the feeling of a timeless space where artifacts and memories can inspire a youthful sense of adventure and exploration.

Just like here in New Hampshire.


Categories: Editor’s Note