This is a good time to go through junk in my attic, because it’s not too hot. During a Texas summer, attics are fit only for empty suitcases, unwanted picture frames and Christmas ornaments. Speaking of the latter, have you noticed that during the summer someone goes into your attic and tangles up your Christmas tree lights? Happens every year.
Here is my own attic collection of empty suitcases, a forgotten plastic bag of something, a dusty box containing old and yellowed newspapers. Now why do I have this box? Oh, yes. It belongs to one of my offspring. As a child, he collected newspapers reporting important events – like a Wednesday or changing of the seasons. Now he’s gone and these newspapers aren’t. Next to it is a trunk from summer camp. Eight males in my family have attended Camp La Junta and we are now into the third generation at Camp Waldemar. I dare not open this trunk. It may contain a counselor from Summers past.
There’s a lot of this dusty stuff in my house and perhaps yours, too. But it’s not ours. These leftovers belong to our children who grow up and leave, but leave behind everything they don’t want or don’t have room for in their new digs. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the same — leave behind everything we didn’t need instead of renting a mini-warehouse? At no cost? Then, whenever we need something, just nip over to our folks’ house and pick it up, and return anything we no longer want.
We all know the drill in our current society: kids grow up in their parents’ house gradually collecting furniture, clothes, books and all sorts of electronic gear. Then they leave for college, even if the campus is across the street, taking with them the bare essentials such as a change of clothes and all their electronic gear.
After college, children used to get their own apartment and a job. Since today’s college graduates can’t get a job, they move back in with their parents. But eventually, the kids do leave, usually after the parents have changed the locks. But the offspring don’t take everything with them. Here, for example, is a desk and a chair, nice antiques, I think. They belong to my daughter who used them for years. Now she has her own place, but absolutely refuses to take this desk and chair because “they don’t make the right statement” in her new abode. I didn’t ask her to debate, just take.
This large plastic bag is full of T-shirts. In earlier days, I traveled the globe searching for the perfect martini and cigar. Each time I would return from Hong Kong or Moscow or Marfa, I would bring all my children T-shirts saying “Eat More Poodle” or “Death to Capitalist Scum!”
The other children duly wore them out and then they disappeared – the shirts, not the children. Except for one son who won’t take his clothes collection and won’t let me give it to the shirtless Enron employees. Many is the time, when he would return home on a visit, I would beg him, “Take that big plastic bag of T-shirts.” He wouldn’t. Sorry, Skilling.
If your own children have left home and you have an empty nest, maybe it’s not so empty after all. Look in their rooms. Do they still have that “Seniors Rule!” banner on the wall, next to the giant poster of Che Guevara? Is there still a Playboy under the mattress and beer cans under the bed? Does the bookcase still contain old college textbooks that couldn’t be re-sold because the professors had updated their books and made the next class buy their own? A paperweight made in the third grade that is supposed to be a horse but looks like a camel? Check in the closet, too. Clothes are hanging there which were first worn when Gerald Ford could walk and chew gum. Shoes no doubt clutter the closet floor with mud on them from the Jog For Jesus church rally to raise money for the new moat to keep out Muslims.
In my garage, close by the car driver’s door, is yet another desk, this one belonging to yet another son. I think about him every time I squeeze into my car through that narrow gap. I suppose I should be grateful he took his car with him. Garages are great places to store stuff your kids have so generously left for your use, such as bent bikes, rusty roller skates and sleighs that had to be purchased for the one and only snowfall of the winter.
You could get rid of all your kids’ backpacks, high school megaphones, letter sweaters and records/tapes/CDs (depending how long they’ve been gone), toss the stolen street signs and acne cream, but they would want them the next day. The phone rings, “Hi, it’s me. I’m coming home to get my old megaphone and letter jacket for our high school reunion.” Pitifully long pause. “You still have them, don’t you? Dad? Mom?”
On the other hand, you can be proactive. Simply call your heir and announce, “I’m cleaning out your room. Need the space for my newest job since I got laid off at the muffler repair shop. I’m opening a tanning salon and pit bull recycling center.” Or, you could say, “The Health Department was over here yesterday with a final notice.” Maybe just: “The new renters insist.” Or: “You know how you always said you wanted another sister?”
Looking back, when I would return to my folks’ home for a visit and a loan, I recall that on each trip I would notice fewer possessions in my old room. What clearly happened was, when I backed out the driveway to depart, my father would say to my mother, “Is he gone yet? Good. Toss out another unused college text book — but not the Playboys.”
Ashby gathers dust at firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustraton by Robin Kachantones