Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I Took a Load to the Dump

I took a trailer load to the dump. This was in 2001 and it was not your ordinary dump run. Our second and last child had fledged and moved thousands of miles out of state for college. Our house, utility room, and garage were crammed with clutter from 18 years of our hoarding. Although our home had become metaphorically an empty nest, our storage areas were maxed out. I was suffering considerably from the empty nest thing as well as the obstacle course of clutter.

I cannot name all the stuff, but here are a few notable examples. I had tons of leftover building materials from do-it-yourself repairs and home improvements. These are the things one will never again need until soon after disposing of them. The toughest items to purge were the kids’ stuff. My wife Catherine couldn’t bear to part with the kids’ toys. After all we might need them some future year for anticipated grandchildren. One item was a diorama made by our daughter in elementary school. It was cleverly crafted, probably on the theme of a book she had read. It was the interior of a cabin with tiny furnishings like beds made from empty tuna fish cans. There was a very cute little mouse she had made of clay, peering out from a corner. The diorama took fully a square yard of table space and nothing could be stacked on top of it. Another item was the third row car seat I had fashioned for our children to sit in the back of our ’85 Subaru wagon when we had other car occupants. Its creation was a labor of love and engineering skill directed foremost to safety. I had welded a frame exactly fitted to the space and made seats of plywood and foam carefully contoured with Catherine’s electric knife for comfortable support. Catherine made seat covers for it. It didn’t fit anything but an ’85 Subaru and I couldn’t give it away to anyone after the children grew up and the Subaru was gone.

Back to the dump: We called it a dump but it’s really a transfer station. You drive your vehicle in and out over a scale. They charge based on the weight loss after the vehicle has been emptied. The first stop after weigh-in is the hazardous waste drop-off where you get rid of all the solvents, oil based paint, and other nasty gooey stuff. Then you dump off any recyclable metals. Finally you back up to the gigantic pits where you must unceremoniously hurl your junk, lifetime memories, obsolete electronic gear, and everything else over a precipice. Continuously some Morlock runs a roaring bulldozer over it to crush everything into black hole density to be trucked to a landfill. That’s the hard part. These treasures deserve a more respectful interment.

It was awful when I had to hurl the car seat to its doom. It represented hours of our creative craftsmanship. It had cradled our precious little children for many miles of family adventures. This nearly tore me up but it was even worse when I came to the diorama. I took an extra moment to ask myself if there was any way I could preserve it forever and cart it safely about each time we moved. The answer was “No,” - probably the wrong answer. I hurled it into the path of the raging bulldozer and instantly regretted my actions. Suddenly at my feet, still barely in the trailer, I spotted the tiny clay mouse, looking up at me in horror, pleading for his life. “Yes!” I cried to myself and pounced on him to rescue him for life. This was only to find that something terrible had spilled on him from my potpourri of toxics and he was already dissolving away. Why had I not thought of saving him before?! Sadly, I thumped him over the edge to join his diorama in oblivion, and I instantly began weeping. I guess that silly thing had brought the whole pain of empty nest to a catharsis.

By the time I reached the exit weigh station I was wailing inconsolably and almost unable to communicate with the agent and pay up. No doubt she thought I was a nut case. All the way home and ever since, I’ve been mulling better ways to part with our obsolete treasures. Perhaps there could be grief counselors stationed at the dump. Maybe the treasures could ascend up a conveyor as if to heaven and we could receive a little certificate commemorating their good service on earth. No doubt, I am a nut case because I still have the real treasures. The little girl who made that diorama is very wonderfully alive, wiring peoples homes, teaching exercise classes, and operating an Air BnB while raising our two lovely granddaughters. The little boy who sat in the car seat next to her is a prince of a fellow, nearing age 40, loving his beautiful talented wife, and educating the next generation of college students. I have no cause for grief. Rest in peace little mouse. You played your role well in your hour upon the stage and you wont be forgotten.


Sayward said...

Johnny, that is so well written and I can feel your pain and angst over what to get rid of, what to save. What I've come to do in my life is take pictures of the things that are hardest to get rid of but which I know I'll never use anymore. Then I sell those things. Whatever doesn't sell goes to Salvation Army or the like. What's hardest for me is old letters. I've saved so many old handwritten letters that have the old stamps and all the old history of my life with friends and family members. What I've been doing with those is to slowly let them go in bits and pieces...The ones I can part with every so many years are burnt in a small ceremonial offering to the Universe for the love and tenderness that is going in smoke back up to the heavens. Love to you both! <3

James Douglass said...

Aww! I love this sentimental story, and your suggestions for a "respectful internment" for childhood treasures. Thank you for writing this down. Love, James