Published: January 17, 2012
I found it while cleaning house last week. I moved the kitchen trash bin to vacuum in the corner, and there it was: a little blue sticker.
It was imprinted only with a number — “120” — but I recognized it immediately. You would too, because you’ve seen thousands like it in a variety of colors: an inventory sticker.
We moved here six months ago. The boxes are long since unpacked, so why did it show up now? Maybe it was on a box of Christmas decorations, recently put away. (Really, Mom, I have cleaned my floors since then.) Perhaps it turned up on a sneaker sole and then was tossed in the general direction of the trashcan.
One way or another, it ended up on the floor, a reminder that moving is not just something my family does every two or three years, it sticks to us all the time. The evidence is always there, hidden on the back of a dresser or in plain sight on the kitchen floor.
I shared a photo of my misplaced inventory sticker on Facebook. Several military spouse friends quickly commented:
“Oh, no! You lost part of your family history off the back of your couch! Put it back! Put it back!” said Army wife Carol Simpson.
June Herring, whose husband retired from the Air Force a few years ago, kept some of her inventory stickers on purpose.
“I still have a few that I just leave there for a good memory whenever I run across them,” she said.
My mom said some of her furniture still has stickers from moves that happened decades ago. “They never all go away!” she said.
Debra Hammer, an Army wife living overseas, said, “This is a reminder: Don’t get too comfy, ’cause eventually someone tags your things and takes them away.
“Just the other day, I was at a friends house ... admiring her very nice dining room set. I look down and see an orange sticker like this, and then I smiled because a civilian person would never understand about the sticker collections that military families have.”
I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets sentimental — even philosophical — about a little bit of adhesive tape.
Our sticker collections hint at our past and future transitions. Those moves also shape the way I live in the present, honing some skills and dulling others.
For example, I’m good at moving in. Within a week or two I can unpack the boxes, hang enough curtains and pictures to be ready for weekend guests, a birthday celebration or even Christmas. I’ve done it. So have you.
I’m not so good at spring cleaning. Let me rephrase: I don’t do spring cleaning, as a general rule. I usually wait until it’s moving time to de-clutter shelves and drawers, clean out closets and deep clean under the appliances.
I’m good at making friends quickly, and just as quickly evaluating those who will remain acquaintances. I don’t measure the depth of friendship by the number of hours spent together or the number of miles that separate us. My closest friends are often from military families, because we don’t have to explain these things to each other.
I’m not so good at saying goodbye, in spite of having plenty of practice. I’m much better at saying, “I hope our paths cross again,” or “See you again soon.” In military life it is often true, by chance or by design.
Moving affects my choices major and minor, from friendships to household furnishings. I don’t buy expensive curtains. They might not fit the next house. I choose sturdy furniture so it will survive to see the next house.
Most importantly, moving affects my children. They can’t name just one hometown, but they can make friends and be at home wherever they go. They may not know exactly where they are from, but they know where they’ve been.
They’ve learned geography, not from textbooks, but from travel. They use train and plane tickets for bookmarks.
And I write about inventory stickers.
One little blue inventory sticker: A reminder of the places military life takes us, the ways it changes us and the adventures yet to come.