Really, in my life, I’ve been so very blessed and have so much for which I’m thankful. And, when reflecting on this, one of the things I always put on the list of good fortunes is the fact that I own my own home. To some, if they viewed it from the inside, they wouldn’t be impressed, but it’s mine, free and clear, except for those property taxes that Rachael Gilroy requests a couple of times a year.
And, whenever I begin to think fondly of the place I hang my hat, that’s when I decide to clean. Usually, it’s not what you might call a deep clean, but I do make an effort. Then there are those occasional times when, with the help of my Lady Jane, who is to cleaning what Trump is to bombast, my and especially her efforts intensify.
When I can actually persuade her to do what most would never do for free, which is cleaning someone else’s house, she insists carpets are pulled off the floors and taken outside and beaten within a hyperbolic inch of their lives, Lestoil-infused wet mopping must be done and books actually must be removed from the shelves for dusting purposes among other, what I see to be extraordinary efforts.
The last time we went above and beyond the cleaning call of duty, I had an epiphany. I came to the conclusion that we human types, despite all the lessons that it’s people, not possessions that matter, sure do accumulate a lot of stuff!
After seeing my shelves up close, I had a greater understanding of what I have gathered and retained over time. As I ruminated on this reality, I divided the inventory into three categories — photographs, books and, for lack of a better word, trinkets.
Now, when it comes to why I allow them space, the most obvious would be the pictures. They contain images of special people — Jane, my mom and dad, my daughters and granddaughters, and dear friends such as Mike Schepp, Denny Bauman and Harry Johnson. In other words, they are the images of those who have meant the most to me over time.
The images, of course, while dear to me, can also prompt tears if I stand before them too long, for some, like my parents because they are no longer here with me sharing my world, and for others, especially my beautiful daughters, Shannon and Katie, because they are no longer the little gap-toothed girls that some of the pictures show. For fathers, there’s something about little daughters with missing baby teeth that can cause a lump to develop in the throat even decades after those pictures were taken.
As for the books, why so many still remain long after I’ve read them is anyone’s guess. As I look at row after row, as I often do when I come face-to-face with the absurdities of life, I think of a “Seinfeld” moment, this one from an episode called “The Ex-Girlfriend.”
George, all you fellow devotees of the show I firmly believe was a sitcom for the ages will remember, breaks up with a girlfriend only to discover he left some books at her apartment. In an attempt to avoid the awkwardness of retrieving them himself, he tries to persuade Jerry to go get them.
It was then Jerry asked George, “What is this obsession people have with books? They put them in their houses like they’re trophies. What do you need them for once you read them?” Then came the classic Seinfeld sarcasm as Jerry looked at George and asked, “When you read Moby Dick the second time, do Ahab and the whale become good friends?”
While I still have far too many “trophies,” I have also gotten better about giving away books I have already read and telling the people that I don’t want them back.
As for the trinkets, basically, they remind me of the pleasant moments in my life, ones often shared with others. That digital watch with the cheap soft plastic band and banana-yellow facing with an interlocking “NY” and “Chiquita” on it may have stopped working well more than 25 years ago, but I still remember it was a stadium giveaway on my first trip to Yankee Stadium with some buddies the summer I worked on the Jersey Shore after my sophomore year at Miami University.
That bleached piece of driftwood I picked up and dusted under? Well, that I picked up while walking a strip of beach on Pelee Island on a wonderful male-bonding fall weekend with my St. Marys teaching and administration colleagues and friends once upon a pre-Y2K time when we all were invited to share a weekend at a board member Cal Caywood’s cottage.
As I continued to think of what I dust under and around, I had a second epiphany, and that was what others would see clutter, to me, are treasures because they represent moments that mattered, the vestiges of a life pretty well lived. And, that’s why they’ll be right there to dust around and underneath yet again the next time I can convince a certain special lady that cleaning someone else’s house is actually a lot of fun.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.