It happened again this morning.
Something, some reference in the book I am reading sent me into one of the parts of the house given solely to utilitarian purposes. The rafters above the garage are such a place, occupied with boxes filled with Christmas decorations, as well as ladders, paint scaffolding and luggage, none of it used anymore. The travel bags are covered to protect them until, what, some impulsive moment when one or the other of us will succumb to an irresistible urge to get online, buy tickets and pack one or more of the old valises for a trip to who-knows-where for who-knows-why? Not bloody likely.
The reference while reading this morning sent me to the basement where, upon the wood shelves that line one full concrete wall, stuff is stored. Most of it hasn’t seen use in years. Our snorkel gear resides peacefully there, the dive masks with prescription lens carefully preserved for the next trip to the Caribbean that is probably not coming; sleeping bags parked there after our last outing umteen years ago; the spare toaster oven we stashed against the chance that the then-current one might conk out one morning without warning.
And the boxes.
The object of my search was prompted by the author’s mention of books once belonging to his father, which were passed down to him. As I read, I was reminded of one such book which I think was once my Dad’s, although the old librarian in my memory is uncertain about this. I thought one of the boxes on the basement shelves might contain Dad’s book. I took down two likely candidates for inspection.
For quite a while I have become indifferent to the stuff stored in the basement, the garage, the crawl space, the closets. Two things are changing that.
The first is this rationale that it still has value and will most certainly be needed and wanted later.
The other is the realization that, at some point, we probably will make the decision to sell this house, to opt for something smaller, something that demands less of our effort. Much of this accumulation will not be going with us.
With both boxes perched atop of the washer and dryer, I lifted the first lid, inhaled the dust and the musty aroma of old paper, and peered warily inside.
I suppose I have done this several times since they were put here some years ago. I think of something, as I did this morning, and commence a search and rescue mission. But, for the most part, the stuff stored here on this wall, and elsewhere around the place, has rested without disturbance.
I am initially surprised at these lid-liftings. I look in at the contents with some amount of curiosity and expectation. What looks back at me is seldom what I think I remember.
In the first box, I found a book of mine, long since believed to have been cast off; a duplicate, a replacement purchased more recently, sits on my bookshelf, confirming that now I have two identical business books which I no longer need or use. Under it were more, books studied in preparation for a business certification, along with the documentation obtained during a series of classes and seminars taken in pursuit of that certification… a certification, it must be said, which I no longer hold. I relinquished it when I changed industries twenty years ago. At the bottom of this box, documents of every house we’ve ever purchased, refinanced or sold.
In the other box, books by my once-favorite cartoonist, Walt Kelly. Most probably have copyright dates in the 60s. I haven’t read any of them in years, yet here they are. With them are cassette tapes of feature news I wrote, produced and recorded during my radio broadcast career. I was very proud of these shows at the time and guarded the recordings I took with me when that part of my life ended… but I don’t have anything that can playback a cassette tape.
Each item, each book, each document, even the absurdity of the cassette tapes which cannot be heard, sends me its message. I look in and they, individually and collectively, look back. Some speak of the good intentions they had toward usefulness in my working life, toward my entertainment, toward responsibility and sensibility, toward the notion of good stewardship, toward accomplishments I might have wished to bring forth once again in similar circumstances.
They speak of to me of who I was, not who I am now.
The recognition is somewhat unsettling, this realization that I’m not going to be in a position to need my business texts or certification credentials; my career is over. The retention period for home ownership records must certainly be long past. And the cassette tapes, well, they just laugh at the fool peering into the box.
All of them, the lot, from a time now past, have been carefully stored in the eventuality of some recurring need, which itself has now past without ever having come. The reality is that those boats have sailed, the speeding train on which I’ve been traveling already went racing past those stations.
By the way, the book which I supposed had been Dad’s was not there, which means my memory of it is incorrect, or it is somewhere else in this jumble, or it has already departed. This, like the stuff whose time has past, gives me no comfort either.
“I needed to let go of my lingering attachments…”
Robert C. Sibley
The Way of the Stars