we’ve got compartments

I hope this doesn’t come off like bragging but I know exactly where my S-hooks are.

Finally cleared out the basement workshoppy area—such a hopeless tangle of semi useful debris it didn’t even have a name.

One of us has wanted to do this for yonks. The other, more meh, got his way, way too long. (Please note: this wasn’t a job one of us could have done alone given that much debris was of mysterious parentage, needing ‘the other’ to classify.)

So, for eighteen years, if you needed, say, a rope, you had to fight your way through a jumble of paint tins, sacks of multi-coloured wall plugs, rubber tipped springy things that stop doors hitting walls, vacuum cleaner bags for long deceased vacuums, a plastic barrel of shims (used to slide under things to make them level I was told—apparently everyone needs five hundred); you’d have to move aside a trillion tins of assorted nuts and bolts, electrical stuff, hinges, plumbing bits, dried up drywall compound, tubes of caulking, a toolbelt (never worn), paint brushes, dozens of pencils, fuses, batteries, wood filler and individual cartons kept for the sole purpose of housing individual sheets of instructions no one ever reads; you’d find at least one broken hack-saw (kept because we didn’t know we also had an unbroken hack-saw) before you found any sign of rope. Unless of course you were looking for the hack-saw, in which case you’d find the rope first.

—Anyone still awake?

The point is… whatever you were looking for, it was just easiser to get in the car and drive to Rona.

Ah, but not so now, she said drunk on organization after a few glorious hours in the furnace room over the weekend!

Go ahead. Ask me for an S-hook.

Or a patch to fix an inner tube. Nails? Are you kidding me? What size? What colour? We have compartments. Sandpaper? Fine or coarse? Rope? There’s a drawer for that. Maybe you’d prefer a bungee cord (red or blue?), plastic coated fencing wire or two kinds of ordinary garden twine? Could your Theraband ball stand to be inflated… maybe just a titch? If so, come on over to our house toute de suite, I know where the pump is.

Even the reluctant other is impressed.

And hell, it’s hard not to be. For the first time in eighteen years we sleep at night, filled with contented smugness, knowing the exact location of stuff we almost never use.

cars

It was once explained to me that those rusted clunkers you see in farm-yards are the modern day equivalent of the horse put out to pasture.

Supposedly a habit passed down through generations—when a faithful, hardworking nag gets to a certain age and can no longer pull that plough or take you by buggy to the general store, you don’t put it down, you retire it in a field of buttercups and give it all the fresh water it can drink.

Once cars began replacing horses, and it was the old Buick that was packing it in after years of loyal service, the car, so legend has it, was given the same kind of respect: a place in the backyard rather than the scrap yard.

True or not, I love this theory.

I get attached to cars.

From my first—Tommy, a gold Dodge Dart who I bought from an old boyfriend for a dollar and loved despite a broken tortion bar and fallen off exhaust, who my niece still remembers riding in as I drove her to Toronto for a week’s holiday. Good old Tommy had broken windshield wipers and no shocks and every bump made my niece’s head hit the roof but she was too young and too happy to be on this adventure with her eccentric aunt to suggest anything might be weird in a bad way.

Then there was Ernie. A dark green Volvo when I lived in England that drove me through the alps blasting David Bowie through all those claustrophobic tunnels. And the Datsun that played Joan Armatrading and Simply Red and which I drove into the ground. And the Camry, Peter’s car, which became our first ‘family’ car. Compared to what I’d been used to, I felt like a movie star when I drove it.

I should mention it’s not only my own cars that I form relationships with, but rentals. I take pictures of them at the end of holidays. Years later the picture means nothing. Silver Taurus. Blue Honda. Who cares? But at the time, I’m so grateful for the thing not getting a flat or overheating, for getting us around safely, that I find it hard to walk away without at least a silent nod of thanks.

~
This morning our old Nissan (unnamed, though in a certain light might be taken for an Edwin or Marcella), too old for re-sale, was picked up by the auto wreckers. When Peter saw my face he reminded me that they were going to “recycle” it, which, however sweet of him, sounded like what my parents said about Tipper the lunatic cat who no one but my ten year old self loved, who finally flipped his last lid and became ferocious, attacking indiscriminately, and who was taken away in a cardboard box one day “to go live on a very nice farm”.

The last time a car of mine was picked up by the wreckers, I convinced myself it was not going to be crushed or even recycled, but kept as a service vehicle for the scrap yard. Living out its last years in a dignified and useful way by shuttling workers to and from coffee breaks and shift changes.

And frankly, short of looking out the kitchen window and seeing the Nissan there in the garden amongst the rusting hulks of Tommy and Ernie, the Camry… amongst cedar saplings and blackberry vines and the memory of Bowie’s “Heroes” rattling round my brain… this is the happy, deluded image I choose for my most recent, faithful, and dearly departed friend.

remnants

Until last year I had a whole cupboard full of fabric, bits of things from the sewing I used to do—couldn’t bear to part with any of it because, oh I don’t know, maybe my passion for making culottes and drapery would re-ignite at any moment?? Not likely. Apart from the occasional pillow slip (and then only if I happen to find really great fabric) I leave the sewing to my newest best friend, a tailor named Pam.
So it was easy letting it all go—everything, that is, but one bolt of white damask I’d salvaged when cleaning out my mother’s house a few years ago. She’d bought it when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was still living at home; I recall chatter (arguments?) between her and my dad about the price, the quality, was she nuts? It was the only time I remember her buying something non-essential. I knew from the start this wasn’t just fabric.

She made a round tablecloth for her kitchen table and, years later, when I had a place of my own, a small square one for me. Despite its supposed exquisiteness, I didn’t like it much… but what could I do? It was The Damask, the crown jewels of our family. I thanked her and dragged it around to every place I lived.

For her part, that was all she did with it. The rest, metres and metres, was kept tucked away for—as it turned out—ever. Price tag still in place ($47.50). Too precious to use. An act of insanity that I realize I’ve perpetuated. At least once a year I consider pitching it but have never been able to get past its mythology. Or maybe it was how hard she fought to defend her right to buy it. Those were the days when women had to defend such things.

In any case, this year I’m on a serious de-cluttering mission, which includes not only chucking the stuff that’s easy but the stuff that’s hard. 

The Damask must go.

Because it’s not just a bolt of fabric, it’s a nefarious force attracting other remnants—it’s already attracted a small collection of fabric ends from a vest I had Pam make for Peter this Christmas (scraps I’ve kept in case he burns a hole in it with a cigarette even though he doesn’t smoke and even though he has a closet full of clothes that have never been burned by any object, lit or otherwise).

Okay. The vest remnants I’ll pitch.

As for the other—

Last year my mother had a stroke and now sleeps 24 hours a day in a nursing home, in and out of dementia, past giving a flying fig about The Damask or anything else. Perfect time to get rid of it—who would care?

Oddly… me, as it turns out.

True, I don’t want it in its lifelong form: neatly folded and yellowing, an irritant being shuffled from one place to the next. Nor do I need another tablecloth. But my perpetually sleeping mother—well, it suddenly occurs to me that she could do with a crisp new duvet.

In a damask cover of exceptional quality.

~

georgia and me

In 1992, I was given a little Georgia O’Keefe themed engagement calendar booklet thingy when such, now archaic, novelties were what every sensible person carried around with them. However else would you manage your days if not to write appointments, etc. in ink (a liquid, usually blue, stains something awful)…

As it happened I didn’t use mine to note appointments or meetings or social events—which is probably a story in itself—what I did instead was use it to note the titles of books I wanted to read.

Thing is I rarely consulted the list. I just kept adding to it and when I’d filled the pages I put the booklet in a drawer and began making lists on napkins and pizza flyers. The way you do. (Until someone gives you another little booklet—because it’s just the sort of thing you never walk into a dollar store and buy for yourself.) Recently, however—and it’s only been 19 years—someone did give me a new tiny notebook, which has freed me from pockets full of scribbles and shredded tissue and allows me space to begin making a new list I won’t get around to reading for a decade or two.

In any case, it’s time to say ta ta, Georgia. It’s been a slice and all that, but you’re really just part of the clutter now. (How a heart hardens over time, eh?) The contents of Georgia, however, are gold. But as long as she lives in a drawer, I won’t be aware of that gold.

So I’m listing Georgia’s contents, over at the other blog, a list I can share with friends, et al.  Technology makes this possible, god bless it, while ink—though I’m madly in love with it still—is such a private thing, and where books are concerned, I really think the more ‘sharing’ the better…

~

a new place for old stuff

I have too much stuff. I want less. In fact I want what Alix Kates Shulman describes in Drinking the Rain—to find out “how little I need in order to have everything.”

And so as I get rid, I thought I’d commemorate some of the debris with a project—The Stuff Stories—where I try to understand why things that have no real meaning are difficult to part with—like a strange little boy doll in navy blue breeches that I bought during the 80’s. Can’t remember from where or even why, yet every time I try to pitch this unnamed thing that I have no special fondness for, I can’t. (The best I’ve done is getting him into a bag for the Sally Ann once. I dropped it off, drove away, then a kilometre or two later I turned around, went back, opened the bag, fetched him out and drove us back home.) Not sure what this means. But it’s very bloody weird, no?

Happily, I’m old enough to be more curious now about the why of hanging on to these things than to actually keep hanging on to it. Curious also about what there is to learn from the process of disentangling myself.

—And whether or not I’ll ever be able to say goodbye to breeches boy.

~

The Stuff Stories, a de-cluttering project of the storied kind.

more than just stuff

In 1947 Mr. and Mrs. Albert A. Walker of Whitby, Ontario, sent a box of local honey to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip as a gift for their (Nov.20th) wedding. Just a bit of trivia I recently stumbled upon but which got me thinking about some of the very peculiar things Peter and I received for our wedding and how, really, in many cases we would have preferred honey.

Which got me thinking about gift giving in general and how we choose what we choose and how you can always tell the ‘real’ gifts from the ones that were purchased just in the nick of time. And the clue is never in the cost or the size or the gift wrapping.

Which got me thinking about the upcoming gift season specifically. And how I’m so tired of stuff. Tired of getting it, giving it, moving it around, hauling boxes of it to the Sally Ann, putting even more into storage bins (that have to be purchased, which = more stuff), and above all, lamenting the fact you can no longer burn things in back yard oil drums in the manner my father once disposed of an entire living room suite.

So this year, inspired by the very clever and unpretentious Walkers, I’m giving as many non-stuff gifts as possible (although, admittedly, I do love picking up bits for people throughout the year and especially on snowy nights in December).

IN ANY CASE, ON MY NON-STUFF LIST SO FAR:

Donkeys (sponsored ones from The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada); who wouldn’t want a little donkey in their stocking? 

Backyard Bird Counting Kits  from Bird Studies Canada.  I just love this idea. BSC is grateful for the birdy info over the winter months and what a fun activity for the whole family to get people away from the you-know-what long enough to realize that ohmygodlookthere’s wildlifeinthebackyard!

An IOU for a month of fresh produce from a local CSA farmer. CSA has become hugely popular at my local market where, every week through the growing season, there’s a long line of baskets for ‘members’ filled with the best of whatever’s ready for picking at that time. You never know what your order will be from week to week, kind of like a veggie grab bag, which makes it fun. And it’s always the very best quality. No seconds. (CSA farmers are in markets all over rural and urban Ontario. A perfect gift. Better even than honey.)

A lynx, a wolf, a great horned owl… from Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, where all the animals have been rescued from one horrific situation or another. Bears have been taken out of bad circus acts; lions out of homes that purchased the cubs as pets; wildlife hurt by cars or guns or traps. If they’re lucky, wild animals in need end up at Aspen Valley where they’re rehabilitated with the goal of being returned to their natural homes. If return to the wild isn’t possible, they live on hundreds of acres and acres of open spaces in as natural a setting as can be provided. A brilliant place to spend an afternoon. No glitz or glam. These people, in their wellies and windbreakers, are the real deal in their appreciation and understanding of animals. Definitely not a petting zoo. But if you’re interested in learning, or teaching your kids, about animals in a real (non entertainment, non-zoo-ish way), it makes for one great outing. (Note: if you go, bring a box of old towels, blankets or pillows, or various other items they’d be grateful to have. Check the website.)

Subscriptions to Canadian magazines. Despite ever lowering numbers, there’s a brilliant distilled-to-the-best selection out there. (From a subscription brochure recently received, I counted close to 150 in English, and over 40 in French.) 

Gift certificates to local restaurants. (I’m thinking small increments, tucked into a Xmas card for people I want to just give a little something to; better than a Timmy’s card because Timmy’s is doing fine. Plus I like the idea of community support and maybe even introducing someone to their soon to be new favourite place.)

Always baskets of preserves.

Always art.

Always books.

And honey of course.

~

P.S. Happy Anniversary to the merry Windsors. Wonder what they’ll be giving each other—A handwritten note promising a month of back rubs? Dinner and a game of charades with the kids? Or maybe they’ll just cosy up by the fire together, reminisce and drink heavily…