Junk or treasure? Well now, that depends

06/17/2010 12:00 AM |

I save everything; Christmas cards, partially melted Tupperware, fondue pots, watches, portable radios, elementary school art projects, college textbooks, eight-track tapes, clunky calculators, napkin rings, cameras. Very little that enters this house ever leaves it. My basement and attic are crammed with items that date back to pre-Wonder Years, through the disco decade, to now.

You can tell the story of my family’s life by sifting through the layers. The tools from my stained-glass period are in one corner of the basement, right behind an easel that dates back to my oil-painting period, propped against a hot pink golf bag from my “you’ve got to be kidding” period. Most of my husband’s racing gear, circa 1982, is there under the ski equipment, circa 1985, and right next to the ice skates our family used every New Year’s Day for skating on Lily Pond before global warming. With the exception of stray animals, everything our kids dragged home is still here, somewhere.

Part of the reason I keep things is because someday I may need them. You know that as soon as I get rid of those skates global warming is going to reverse itself. Then on New Year’s Day everyone will be skating across Lily Pond and I’ll be slip-sliding along in my street shoes, which is not as much fun.

Occasionally I do start a massive clean sweep that results in nothing more than shifting items from one part of the basement or attic to the other. The piles of stuff never get smaller. However, now that I have a grandson, I think all that is about to change, one item at a time.

When he wanders over to my house he spends most of his time rummaging through what he considers to be treasures. A few weeks ago he came up from the basement lugging an electric typewriter, circa 1970. We plugged it in and I inserted a piece of paper.

“Go ahead, hit a letter,” I said. He did. A key shot up, struck the paper and left its mark. His eyes got wide. He hit another key. Same thing happened. He hit an X and XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX appeared across the sheet. He typed about 30 rows of Xs then called to his sister who was out in the yard.

“You have got to come see this!” he shouted. “It’s a newfangled computer but you don’t even have to have a monitor or a printer. It puts the words RIGHT ON THE PAPER!”

For an hour they hovered over the “newfangled” machine, taking turns pressing keys and typing words “right on the paper.” When it was time to go home my grandson lugged the dusty typewriter through the woods to his house, hollering ahead, “Dad! Dad! Wait till you see what I got for us. We don’t even need the computer anymore. And Grandma says we can keep it!”

The next day he dragged up a 35mm movie camera, circa 1968, complete with light attachment, tripod, lenses, spools of film and carrying case. He sat on the floor for hours playing with all the attachments. When his dad came over to get him for dinner I told my grandson that if he wanted, he could keep the camera and all its 237 parts. His eyes lit up but his father’s eyes narrowed.

“Why don’t we keep that stuff here at Grandma’s?” he suggested.

The little kid looked ready to cry.

“Oh, it’s OK. You can take it,” I insisted, handing the cardboard box of attachments to the little boy’s daddy.

My son gave me such a look. This same son whose workout equipment takes up an entire section of the basement and who once towed home a car with no engine, no floor and no tires. And then there was that boat with no bottom.

I ignored the look.

The next day my grandson informed me of the new rule. Nothing else from my basement or attic was supposed to make the trip through the woods from my house to his. The same woods, I might add, that still contains a partial car and the remains of a boat with no bottom.

His father confirmed it. “I told him he can’t bring anything from your basement to our house. All that junk is ending up over here!”

Well, isn’t that just too bad (I said to myself!). But out loud, I said, “OK, I promise. No more junk.” Which is exactly what he promised me about 25 years ago. And he didn’t mean it, either.