Editor Paul Hagen Asks: Does Anyone Ever Outgrow Childhood — Or its Artifacts?

Written by | Columnists and Letters

Paul Hagen

Looking at the walls of my home today — generously sprinkled with framed photos, prints, posters and the like — it’s strange to remember a time when I didn’t own a single piece of wall decoration. But for many years when I was very young, I shared a room with my little sister, where the walls were kept relatively bare. This was a wise precaution as one of our favorite activities was hurtling ourselves from bed to bed as though they were twin trampolines, and anything nailed up would probably not have stayed there long.

About halfway through grammar school, my parents decided that my sister and I needed our own rooms. At the time, we didn’t exactly have any to spare; however, there was a small, dark paneled room that we told vistors was “Dad’s office” but secretly thought of as the place where all the junk in the universe had gone to collect dust. There was plenty of stuff that related to his work as a musician — including huge piles of sheet music and the various evil-looking brushes and oils used for maintaining his instruments. There were also stacks of books and gadgets from hobbies Dad had picked up over the years. Mom always warned us not to go in there “because Dad doesn’t like his things disturbed,” but I think she also feared a pile might topple over and smother us.

Cleaning out the space was going to be a nightmare, but my mother was convinced we could transform it into a bedroom. As the room’s eventual recipient, I was recruited to help with the process. This seemed to me like time that could be spent more enjoyably doing just about anything else. But, ever the motivator, Mom got me going by promising that there would be a present for me when the task was complete.

To my pre-adolescent mind, this meant something fun like a video game; so you can imagine my surprise when I unwrapped a small square frame. In it, was mounted a Norman Rockwell-esque print of a boy and his dog napping beneath a tree. An artist had then made it “three-dimensional” by gluing bits of actual moss under the tree and then placing a second cut-out of the boy and the dog over it — giving the effect that they were lounging on actual moss. “I bought this years ago, and I’ve been saving it for when my little boy had his very own room,” my Mom said, glowing with pride.

“Thanks,” I said, with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for steamed vegetables.

Nevertheless, I joined her in holding it up against various places until we found “just the right spot.” And later that night, as I prepared to go to sleep in my own room for the first time, I looked over at it and smiled, filled with a newfound sense of maturity. This was something a grown-up would have: his very own piece of art in his very own room.

The boy and his dog are still tucked away with some of my childhood memories in my parents’ home. Several times I’ve considered bringing it to hang in one of the various apartments I’ve lived in, but (like so many city-dwellers) I’ve rarely lived in the same place for more than a year or two, and I’d hate to have it lost or broken in the chaos of move after move. Over the years, it’s come to represent so much to me: first, my mother’s love and the hard work she put into giving me a room of my own. But it also reminds me how the things we choose to hang on our walls can magically turn mere empty space into something that feels uniquely our own. And when I hunt around a new apartment looking for just the right spot to hang each and every piece of art, I think back to the time when I had only one, but it was enough to make me feel like a whole new person.

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Last modified: October 5, 2018