Sherry was a bit overwhelmed. She had been working for months sorting out the accumulation of a couple of lifetimes. There were attics and sheds, basements and closets, desks and garages. There were filing cabinets and shelves in dusty hallways, untouched for more years than she could account for.
Fortunately, she did not have to go it alone. She had family and friends and even some folks she paid help to sort through this gigantic three-dimensional scrapbook that chronicled not only a lifetime but a way of life -- her beloved Grandpa’s life. She speculated, as she sorted, on the generations just prior to hers that saved against want, against the fear of want. What enormous anxiety would prompt someone to save -- in an old White Owl cigar box no less -- hundreds of lengths of twine clearly marked in crabbed lettering: “Pieces of string too small to use for anything”?
The irony, of course, is that no one much reuses string anymore, long or short. They don’t repair TVs or mend socks. They no longer straighten nails or re-purpose every scrap of fabric. Her family did not much want the old worn silver plate trays or chipped flower vases used to hold the floppy peonies from her grandma’s garden every summer. Did this all change with the relative affluence of the years leading up to the turn of the century? Or did it change with the ubiquitous availability of cheap Chinese imports at Wal-Mart and Target? Or had taste and lifestyle simply altered? No matter. Sherry’s generation was clearly not going to burden itself with such a plethora of unidentifiable or unworthy junk. It may want to save the Earth with recyclables but it wasn’t interested in housing the useless leavings of a bygone generation.
Some things would be sent to the scrap metal depot. Some would be burned. Some would be given to interested parties -- if any could be found. Sherry culled a few items for antique dealers to see, took some to the thrift shops or the church jumble sale. She had done all she could of this laborious triage.
Yet, there were a surprising number of things in the “undecided” pile. What would she save? What had use or meaning for her? And what did these things – and her reticence to part with them -- say about her? While Sherry knew that it was probably not possible, she wanted her legacy to be housed in a box, not a storage shed or attic or barn or garage. She was moving into her grandpa’s home so really, she could save as much as she wanted.
But what did she want?
The ancient garden hoe and sturdy rake from the shed … she would use those.
His old galvanized watering can … its use and shape was pleasing.
Two folders of old bills … to show how prices have changed.
Three folders of old photos … at least they were labeled so she could identify her ancestors.
A small envelope of old coins …
A packet of love letters tied in silky lavender ribbon …
An old frayed quilt made of men’s suit fabric and tied with red yarn ….
A pipe with teeth marks on the stem …
The round oak kitchen table …
These things touched by his hand, she would keep. Most of the rest was just “stuff,” saved against the fear of want or the conviction that somewhere, somehow, someone would be able to use 16 coffee cans full of nails, 20 padlocks, 10 mop handles, four logging chains, eight umbrellas, 200 assorted glass bottles, 15 extension cords and a sack of crusty paint brushes -- to name but a few of the things she had found.
Sherry thought she should stop while she was ahead. Otherwise she might, by some curious sympathetic osmosis, begin to channel Grandpa and leave her legacy in a cluttered attic or barn or shed.
There were two ironies here: First, if Grandpa needed a paint brush, he would run up to Miles Lumber and buy the one he needed.
Second, she was sorely tempted to save those extension cords.