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Treasures in the Dross

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The stuff we save. 

Bill worked for a NYC ad agency called Ogilvie and Mather right out of college. One of his biggest projects was publicizing and celebrating the 50th birthday of DC Comics' Superman. He saved dozens upon dozens of copies of the Daily News announcing the event. Two would have done it just fine. But we had many, many pounds of them.

Box after box of Superman memorabilia all jumbled up with personal stuff and junk and...

You know how when you start cleaning out your refrigerator and you find something that is so hideously horrifying it's kind of beautiful? I think this was tomato-based at one time. Now it's a landscape.

Well, it wasn't like that. It wasn't beautiful at all.

A suitcase with which mice have made free for 27 years. Oh, and a medal. And a sock.
That's shelled quinoa. They ate all my quinoa right off the pantry shelves, because I was too dumb to store it in jars. The mess wasn't all his, by any means.

A papier mache kiwi that Phoebe made in elementary school.
Or maybe high school.  Its legs broke. It's hard to know how to save the kiwi. But Bill saved it, because Phoebe had made it, and I tried to toss it a couple times and couldn't. This time, it took. Bye, sweet kiwi. Wish you weren't 2' across.

From my modest childhood archives, I stumbled across the Game of Birdwatcher. No fooling, I played this board game, rudimentary as it was, all the time. 

I learned all the birds on the flash cards--it wasn't hard--and spun the little arrow on its cardboard card, and moved little plastic pieces around the board. My parents got it for me for Christmas one year. I couldn't believe there was a game for kids like me!

Gazing at it, it hit me how very much things have changed. Would my kids have looked twice at this game at age 8? Nope. They were already plugged in. I had a black and white TV and maybe a handful of shows I could watch after school. No computer. No email. No iPhone. No social media. Not even a Walkman. They weren't invented yet. Just me and some printed cardboard and my dream of someday seeing all these birds, playing a game that debuted the year I was born.

Although the box had disintegrated, I saved the pieces.  Maybe because it's such a powerful illustration of how little I had to work with, and yet I went on to base my life around birds. That made me feel really good. I went directly to the birds for inspiration. I didn't lay around watching videos of them on my phone. I studied them in real life. I still do. 

And the garage filled, and filled. The right bay was all junk. The left bay was useful.

The HO trains...the tracks...sigh. So hard to say goodbye, but I had to. By now, I'd called Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, in Vienna, WV. They agreed to come out on Dec. 4 to pick up anything that was still useful. Well, there was a lot of that. I liked the idea of giving it to them to sell, to benefit Habitat. This is all kitchen and household stuff.

Much of what I hauled up was no good to anyone. That box of cheap trophies. Good Lord, schools around here are into the trophies. Metallized plastic dopey things; heavy but worthless; the kids know they're ridiculous, and yet they still give them out. Wish they'd stick with ribbons. Too many such things in this world. There's Phoebe, winning the spelling bee...You can't keep everything.

Mildewed suitcases. I cleaned up the really nice vintage one and gave the Samsonites the heave ho.

I could no longer get into the junk bay of the garage. I just kept heaving stuff on top.
Yep, that's wine, none of it any good any more.
Yellowtail never was any good.
No use for it, any of it.
That roll of extra linoleum next to the wine box? WHY DID WE SAVE IT?? For years, it served as a ghost trap for white-footed mice. They'd dive in and never get back out. Oh, the mummies. That corner of the basement no longer smells of death, and it never will again. It smells of Ocean Breeze Lysol now, and I smile. 

Behind some pipes on a cold wall, I found the motherlode of hibernating Asian multicolored ladybirds. Dustbusted them up, and dumped them in a bucket of hot water, ever my favorite insecticide. There's a few thousand invasive ladybugs that won't find their way down my neck or into my food this winter. Die and die quickly.

By the time I got to the toy region of the basement, my resolve to throw everything out was beginning to crumble. These toys stood in stark contrast to the boxes of paper and junk. They seemed so much more meaningful and useful than anything else I'd handled here. And by God, they are.

The Doug and Melissa wooden vegetable cutting toy. I couldn't find the knife, but everything else was there. Ohhhh. Saving that. I've got just the harmless little knife that'll work with the Velcro-joined pieces. 

The gorgeous little plastic horses I'd bought over the years for Phoebe. I got lost in their curves, the beauty of their forms. I would have killed for these as a child! I'd have drawn them. I still should! These stay.

A moment of existential angst, written on the underside of a bit of Thomas the Tank Engine track. My heart flopped over like a fish, wondering what had prompted Liam's furtive 
question.  I have an idea. Maybe he remembers. I'll ask him. Update: He knows he wrote it, but “I have no earthly idea why I wrote that.”

I sorted all that track into long, short, and big unwieldy pieces, boxed it up and labeled it. No way was I getting rid of Thomas things. I boxed up all the cars and engines and bridges and cranes, too. Someday there may be babies who'll want to put it together and clobber up their parents' living room floor for years. I could only hope. Just the sound the wooden pieces made, landing in their respective boxes as I sorted, brought back Liam's entire childhood for me. How I loved to watch him, his little blonde head bent in absorption, searching for just the piece of track he needed to complete his particular plan. The wooden track clattered and clopped all day long. 

I packed up that green trestle, remembering. Packed up those myriad cars, remembering. Labeled the boxes, hoping Liam wouldn't have to buy them all over again someday. Thouuuussssannnnds....and worth every cent.

At a little shop in Cumberland, Maryland, Liam found Tank Engine Valhalla. Yes, he came home with some more engines and cars.

This purging--it wasn't all bad. Sorting and storing the toys was sweet. 


I've got a sweet ache in my mom heart. Thanks for this one.

Superman is a DC comics character, not Marvel!!! Oh, the humanity...

Damn. I sold the Thomas stuff. What the hell was I thinking?

How great do you feel after getting rid of the junk you don’t want?! Absolutely keep the great toys!

Posted by Michele Smith December 19, 2019 at 5:46 PM

Your load is lightening.

Like Michelle above says! I get kind of a "buzz" when I get rid of stuff I no longer need/want. Especially if it's donatable rather than trash. Either way, it always feels good to have it outta there!

Posted by mimimanderly December 20, 2019 at 3:50 AM

Toys and favorite books are the hardest things to get rid. I have only ever managed a few items. I may never have any grandchildren to play with them, but it feels like I would be bagging up a piece of their childhoods.

This is such a great post! I played 'Authors' all the time as a kid (a card game of matching authors and titles) - I credit that game for my career as an English teacher! Childhood is so important - I hate to see the kids absorbed by their devices today

Wow, I just binge read Oct., Nov., Dec. What a wild and beautiful ride. One of the things that I appreciate most about your writing, Julie, is your ability to communicate and evoke so many of our shared human emotions on the deepest level. It gives me, and I believe I am speaking for many of your readers, the feeling that each piece was written directly to and for me personally, as a sharing among an old friends might be. I find myself thinking about your writings for days afterwards because I am always so deeply moved, no matter what the subject. Thank you so much for this gift.


I'm thinking late night pizza after a jam session? And I do see beauty in the fuzzy part, after my first Eww-ww reaction to the tomato base. Good work on the sorting and sharing the daunting task -- If Julie can do it, we can too! We've been well on our way. Once you deal with others' stuff, which is usually labeled crap, it leaves and impression and prompts action. Think this has been mentioned before but George Carlin's gig about stuff is fantastic and I believe it's Google-able. Kim in PA

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