Brently Johnson: The Raisin Invasion


Johnson reflects on the childhood objects of emotions @ Blood Orange Review.

When my sister got kicked out of the house for good, my mother filled her bedroom with raisins. Once she had replaced her furniture—the ratty blue chair, the mattress pocked with cigarette burns and the yellow bean bag slumped in the corner—with a white wicker ensemble suggesting we had suddenly moved to the beach, she covered every surface of that room with purple, hard plastic raisins. They had been all the rage only a few years before as part of an advertising blitz for the California Raisin Board and quickly became pop icons of the ’80s as groovy claymations dancing and singing to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” on TV. Before long, you could find them on t-shirts, coffee mugs, billboards along Interstate 75, Saturday mornings on CBS, and eventually, cast in hard rubber, on the shelves that lined the bedroom next to mine. There were raisins blowing on saxophones. There were Elvis-impersonator raisins, too. Raisins shiny with suntan oil. Diva raisins in yellow high heels. Congratulations Graduate raisins. World’s Greatest Dad raisins. Wind up and walk raisins. Raisin with his eyes squinched wearing white gloves and singing Motown raisin. You name it, my mother eventually owned it, and they all live, to this day, in the room I knew for a brief time as my sister’s.

While I’d heard the term from my father each spring when he disappeared into the attic for a weekend of purging, packrat didn’t come immediately to mind when I thought of my mother. Sure, the shoeboxes in her closet were always on the verge of collapse and every drawer, eventually, did become the junk drawer, but the raisins were a different way of collecting both in psychology and demeanor. Whereas before, stuff seemed to grow on its own accord, slowly, organically, like a beard on a rotting orange, this accumulation had a planned pathology to it few of us recognized in mother. Whether some steamy repression had finally found its valve through collectibles is hard to say, but there was something serial about a themed room in a home when that home wasn’t a bed and breakfast, and when that theme happened to be wrinkled, happy raisins.
Image:  C. Marecic at Blood Orange Review
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