The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Accumulations


Ah -- Youngest Offspring writes about sorting and packing - in his case, a garbage bag a day. He's hit on the hardest part about packing: the sorting. Especially when the sorting involves things accumulated by another, it is, at best, a difficult task. Yet at the same time, it is an enlightening thing, if it is done thoughtfully, over time, as Youngest Offspring ("YO") has been doing. A person wants to know the whys and wherefores for some of these items, and the sorter is left with no clues, save for other items and whatever he can remember about the accumulator. Some things explain away some of the mysteries of relationships and attitudes - others simply leave the sorter even more baffled.


I'm packing, too. I have been packing mentally for a long time, but that is as different from the real thing as mustard from grapes. Now I am figuring what I can sell and how much I can get for what I sell, and trying to let that amount be enough to get the rest of me, the cat and our stuff from here to there. My packing is not the same as YO's. I am older, I have far more things to pack than he does. YO travels light and sorts his own belongings accordingly. Off the top of my head I can only think of one item (of the many he has been offered) that YO has kept: a small goblet made of some sort of light wood. I remember when it was given to him, but not the circumstance. YO remembers the circumstance, and as far as I know, still counts it among the keepers in his life.


I have some of those. Keepers. But once I am gone, who will realize that the beat up old stapler that has survived sortings for over 30 years is the only thing I have left from my marriage to a red-headed man in the mid to late 1960s? I have a collection of records (vinyl!) that can take me, in a matter of seconds, back in my mind to various years of significance in my life. Who, but me, really cares? And what about the record player/stereo (complete with speakers!) to play them on? I bought that piece of clutter about nine years ago at the flea market for $35. The belt had slipped off the turntable (it is there, just not functioning) and it has been on the top shelf in my closet (complete with speakers!) for the past 9 years.


"Dump it," I can hear YO tell me. "Get rid of it. Get another one after you move." Easy for HIM to say. He doesn't have a vinyl collection (as a matter of fact, I cannot think of any item he does collect, aside from his photos, and he keeps those on line and probably elsewhere. ) But I say to myself, stereos like that (complete with speakers!) are not so easily found these days in the condition this one boasts. I just have to find someone who can put the belt back on the turntable and it will be just fine and I can listen to my old vinyl. Here's the thing: this item has value for me. To YO, it holds no value at all, and, in fact, it is taking up valuable space when moving is calculated in linear feet.


That I have owned anything as long as I've owned my beat-up old stapler surprises me. I have moved and started over again so many times I have nearly forgotten what my original purpose was. That stapler has survived countless sortings over the years. On the outside, it has no value, not really. I have a hand held stapler, a full length pink stapler, a mini stapler that uses teeny tiny staples - so I know I have not kept that old stapler to use to attach one paper to another. Yet I have kept it.


So I am going to tell you a secret. Sometimes keeping a particular item that appears to have no value actually holds the value of remembrance. I look at that stapler - not as an item, whether it is useful or not, whether it works or not, whether or not a replacement does the job better. Each time I see it I am reminded where it came from. I am reminded of the good times, the silly, playful times shared with its previous owner. The value of that stapler, then, lies in its ability to act as a bridge across the years, from now back to thoughts I otherwise might have lost. I have other items, from other times. I have items that, were my kids to sort my belongings, would certainly end up in the trash.


There is, in one of my jewelry cases, somewhere in my apartment, a single golden knot cuff link. Looking at it reminds me of the afternoon YO was born. His Pop had been spending the day helping the downstairs neighbor with a project, having a beer or several, when I called down to him that it was time to get to the hospital. Well, he stopped what he was doing, excused himself, and came upstairs. He showered, changed into his dress slacks and a coffee brown shirt with those golden knot cuff links. He then proceeded to become ill; the nearest receptacle was the kitchen sink. Somewhere during that healthy cleansing, Pop lost a cuff link. That the one I still have has no value is clear - Pop could have gone into the pipes to find the lost one in the trap - but he didn't. I still keep the remaining cuff link. It reminds me of the day my Youngest Offspring was born.


If only all the strange things people keep would come with a history, an explanation. Going through the items in your house frustrates my YO, I'm sure - but the things that have no value to him may well have held the value of remembrance for their previous owner.


It's okay to throw them away now. Their usefulness has ended.

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