Treasures or Trash

Every so often we’re forced to come face to face with that never ending problem, cleaning out our closets, cupboards, garages and sheds. No matter who we are, sooner or later we have to acknowledge the reality of owning TOO MUCH STUFF.

Neatniks and slobs, we’re all the same, things begin to own us, rather than the reverse. Some few among us are able to maintain a little control, but if we were never  overly tidy to begin with, we can get in real trouble. I’ve long felt that any storage unit left unattended for as little as a day, will become a breeding ground for whatever might be inside.

I’ve never understood those unusual people who deliberately search out things to collect.  I never needed to collect anything, I just accumulated. Without half trying, I’m likely to find myself buried under mountains of things I’ve accumulated.

If I were clever enough I could arrange little displays of my more interesting pieces of trash and call them collections but I’ve long since filled up all available shelf space and table tops, and I’m afraid most everyone’s reaction would be, “Doesn’t she ever put anything away?” I’ll leave the collecting to the real collectors.

So, what can we do, those of us who are in real danger of suffocating under all the junk?  Well, a house fire would work, but there might be too many complications there, insurance companies getting nosy, police investigations, or the odds of ending up homeless, Fire can be recommended only in the most extreme cases.

There are always the time honored garage sales, yard sales, and such, but there again, not a good idea.  Too many of us have a tendency to buy more at other sales than we sell at our own. Definitely counter-productive.

Donations to thrift shops and charities have a two sided effect, too, They get rid of a lot of junque, and we feel good about ourselves afterwards, but this again is apt to be counter-productive.  The last time I gathered up a huge donation for my favorite thrift shop, I had to go down and buy back things I’d unintentionally given away in the spirit of charity.

Taking a minute to think seriously about the items and objects we own, we should ask ourselves just why they’re so hard to let go of.  Most of my clothes are almost as old as I am. If I could get them on I’d probably still be wearing them. Faded, holey, seams out, I don’t care. There’s an emotional connection there that keeps me hanging on to them, and I still treasure them all.

What is the oldest item or object you own?  Speaking for myself, I can’t think of a single thing I own that’s older than me.  I’m it, the oldest thing I own. I can’t remember at what age an object goes from being called “vintage” to becoming a genuine antique, but I’m pretty sure I’ve passed that milestone.

Rather than having increased in value over the years as a hand carved piece of furniture or a rare tapestry would, I’m afraid my personal value has decreased to the point where even the DMV no longer wants my remains. As for worldly goods, I never did own jewels, furs or old masters. I do have a pair of shoes that are so old I have no idea when or where they came from, but I don’t think they qualify as antiques yet.

So I ask myself,  “Why am I this way?” I can’t be the only one like this. Call me miserly, call me cheap, or call me a hoarder. I confess I’m all those things.

And what is your excuse?

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Writing Your Will…and Rewriting…and…

Everyone needs a will.  No matter how little they own there will always be a few things someone will want.   Wills aren’t really that hard to write. Trust me on this, I’ve written and rewritten my will a dozen or more times.  I’m careful to date each and every copy. Being an avid reader of crime stories, I’m well aware that the most recent one is the only one that is legal.

A will doesn’t have to be fancy.  I usually throw in a few important sounding words and phrases, meaningless but semi-ostentatious, just to be sure I’ll be taken seriously.  “Bequeath” is good, “Herewith” is good, a few “thereuntos” are very good, and “The Undersigned” is impressive. I can only hope they’re legal.  Probably not; there are a few rules one should follow but I never have paid much attention to those.

I never bother with an attorney, either.  We’re not talking a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffet type fortune here.  I’ve never been wealthy and if I live much longer my puny Nest Egg will have shrunk to something the size of a jelly bean anyway.  Wouldn’t it be comforting to have some advance warning as to the exact time and date of one’s demise so our dwindling funds would come out even with our life expectancy,  matching dollars to days?

Since that isn’t possible, I’ll just keep on writing and rewriting the same old will.  With my large family, no sooner do I get all the latest bequeaths and hereafters figured out than there will be a major upheaval of some sort beyond my control,  and I’ll be back to the drawing board.

Marriages, divorces. new babies, or worst of all, a big old family feud ending in a temper tantrum, usually on my part, all take their toll.  If somebody makes me mad enough, it’s time for a revision. I’ll ruthlessly cut them out of the latest version, chortling gleefully to myself.

So far I’ve managed to dump all of my cousins  (I never liked most of them anyway), most of my siblings, three of my many children and some nieces and nephews.

So will I ever write a final revision?  Considering the ups and downs of my life to now, who knows?  I either will . . . or I won’t.

I want to share a copy of a handwritten will I happen to have among my belongings.  This was written by my husband’s grandmother in 1924 and is a perfect example of the type of will I’ve been talking about. This simple, sweet  old soul bequeathed all of her treasures, consisting of her hand-made and decorated linens, plus one very special wish for a special person. She wrote in pencil and her punctuation was a bit free-form, as is mine,  but her spelling was perfect and the will is clear and lucid.

We might be a little dubious about the legality of making arrangements for the future of another human being but she’s very clear about being sure “Pa,” her beloved husband of 50-some years, is well cared for.

“February 15, 1924    My wishes I write down making known to you as near as I can, what shall be done with what belongs to me.

I want a room left for Pa, the best we have, his choice if he has any and plenty of bedding to keep him comfortable, cold or hot weather and anything he needs to make him comfortable.

(Next she mentions a few items of furniture, then she continues:)

“Irene gets the crocheted spread and pillow cover, with linen strips between.

Hazel gets the other spread and Leta has the table cover and all dining room crocheted work.

Ruth has the Sheet Sham, Pillow slips and Dresser Scarf to match as a keepsake from Grandma.

All other bedding, divide among you, if Gus can use any of it, if not you girls, Leta and Hazel divide it, without any trouble, only to get it all out of the way here as I want no one else to use up my old stuff that I have worked for and paid for, with my own work.

The wishes of Gertrude Fox Scott”

My Life of Crime

Browsing through a favorite book, published for writers, and entitled  “642 Things To Write About, ” I came across one suggestion that presented a really intriguing challenge.

“You are a customer lying face down on the floor, observing a bank robbery. Describe the robbery from this vantage point.”

Who could resist a dare like that?  It took some thinking before I finally came up with a scenario I liked. See what you think:

“Here I am, floating face down in a warm, ever widening puddle.  If only these hard tiles were covered with soft, plush carpeting,  that might soak up some of this puddle before I drown in it. How can one human bladder hold so much liquid? Stark fear will do that to you.

“This was supposed to be a quick errand, a brief dash into my bank to cash a check. I was wearing some old sweats and a cap pulled down over my dark glasses. I’ll admit I may have looked a bit sinister.

“I carried a pouchy  “Save-At-Sam’s” tote bag in one hand and my checkbook in the other.  The tote bag was just in case there was enough money left in my dwindling account to do a bit of shopping afterward.  Having succumbed to AMAZON PRIME’s online lures too many times, my financial situation was looking pretty grim.

“Just then the man at the counter ahead of me whirled around, shoved something down into my  “Save-At-Sam’s” tote and gave me a mighty push. So, here I am, flat on my face, handcuffed, on the verge of drowning, lying on top off my tote bag and staring up at a circle of black boots, black pant legs and drawn guns.  A hard, metallic- feeling object is digging into my ribs and I can only think “It’s a gun! I’ll be shot in the gullet before I drown! Which would be worst?”

“I’m jerked roughly to my feet, dripping wet and stinky, thrown in the back of a police car and  hauled off to the poky. The interrogation is not nice. My squishy appearance, my smell, the cocked gun and the poorly printed note pulled out of my tote don’t help my case. I keep insisting  “I know how to spell, I would never spell MONEY like that! I know how to spell MONEY, it has an E in it, it’s not MONY.”

“They finally buy my story when they find no  MONY on me, and a transient is apprehended while running madly through traffic, carrying a bank bag stuffed full of MONY.

“And so ends my life of crime, with me reeking of urine, shaking in my boots and vowing  to do all my banking on line in the future.

“Oh Yes, I’ll cut back on my AMAZON PRIME orders too so I don’t get that broke again.  For a brief moment there, I’ll admit, I was tempted to use the note and the gun for my own benefit.”

Summer’s Favorite Foods, Fresh and Tasty

As a child, I spent most of my summers with my grandparents on   a small acreage near a very small town in northern Iowa. By the time I arrived the gardens were already producing their scrumptious goodies and I was ready for all my hot weather favorites.

Fresh strawberries were usually the first fruits of the summer to appear and in my memory they were bigger, redder and sweeter than any berries since.  Served over hot, crusty biscuits with frothy, fresh cream, or sliced atop my morning oatmeal, they were heavenly.

There was no electricity or refrigeration on the little farm so fresh foods were keep in the old fashioned storm cellar where it was always cool. My chore was to go down at mealtime and bring up the milk, cheese, butter or other foods needed for each meal. That smooth dirt floor felt wonderful on bare feet.  I always took a minute to admire the jars of jewel-like fruits, jams and relishes beginning to fill the shelves, as canning season was already underway.

As the radishes, green onions and lettuces began to pop up, we would pick those and enjoy them every day.  Grandma prepared salads of wilted lettuce, simply made by piling a mound of fresh crispy greens in a bowl, frying out some bacon bits, grease and all, adding a little vinegar,   and a dash of sugar, and pouring this over the lettuces at the last minute. UMMMM!, better than any salads since then.

I loved the new carrots right out of the ground,  not even bothering to wash them off. A quick brush with a grubby hand and they were crunched down.  What was a little good honest dirt to a hungry kid? New baby potatoes creamed with new peas was another mouth-watering dish.

Brilliant red beets, greens and all, were served hot and buttery, or sometimes pickled.  Nothing better! And who hasn’t loved picking a fresh tomato right off the vine? They had a flavor you never get today.  Warm, red and juicy, I often sat down right next to a plant and stuffed myself. Cabbages were crispier, sweet corn was sweeter  and green beans were snappier back then. Northern Iowa didn’t have a long growing season but canning season lasted all summer.

When the local grocer advertised fresh peaches, Grandpa would be sent off to buy a few lugs. Grandma would remind him not to ever bring home the Clingstones, they were much too much work  for the poor results. Unfortunately there came a summer when Grandpa’s thrifty ways and hard times combined to overcome common sense and he brought home several lugs of Clingstones. Talk about a role reversal!  My stern, autocratic Grandpa was cowed as my sweet, soft spoken Grandma blistered his ears. He tippy-toed around for the rest of the day, avoiding the kitchen, but she managed to do her usual good job.

Sitting on the back porch with Grandma and any aunts or older cousins who had come to help her shell peas was such fun. My system was a handful of fresh peas for my mouth and a handful for the pan.

Sundays were family days when carloads of relatives would swing into the yard, honking and waving. Grandpa and Grandma were always up before dawn and he would hurry through the  chores and help her chase down 3 or 4 squawking, scattering chickens. They were be-headed and de-feathered in no time and Grandma had them floured and seasoned, ready for the frying pan by the time the cars were unloaded and dishes of wonderful  good smelling foods were brought in.

Fragrant pies oozing juices, and at least one cake from my cake-baking aunt would fill up the kitchen.  Good natured joshing went back and forth between those who put mustard in their potato salad and those who didn’t. Jellos were popular but with no refrigeration they had to be whisked down into the cellar and then whisked back up to the groaning table at the last minute.

Hot yeast rolls and the old brown pottery bean pot, simmering and fragrant,  were taken out of the oven of the cast iron cook stove at the last minute. Lemonade was poured and everyone sat down and gave hasty thanks for Nature’s bounty.

No BBQs in those days, no steaks, burgers or hot dogs, just mounds of crisp fried chicken and platters of ham or meat loaf.  Home-churned ice cream and watermelon rounded out the meal for those who had a little room left in their tummies.

After the feast the men would adjourn to cigars and politics in the backyard while the women tidied up and we children ran wild, tearing  around with our cousins. Maybe those were the good old days, but some things never seem to change.

We were all guaranteed a good night’s sleep after one of those wonderful Sundays.  Even our dreams were sweeter.

Making Conversation

Is there anything more trying than trying to make conversation?  What do you say when you don’t know what to say? How do you converse with someone when you’re stuck in an awkward situation?

Say you’re strolling down the street with a good friend.  You run into a friend of hers whom she greets effusively. Just as she begins the introductions, her phone rings.  She excuses herself to take the call, leaving you staring at the stranger who is staring back at you. What to say?

“Um-Uh, nice day, isn’t it?”  “Yes, isn’t it?” “Er-Ah, Yesterday was nice too.”  “Yes, wasn’t it?” “Ah-Uh, I hear it might rain tomorrow.”  “Yes, it might.”

And so it goes until your friend mercifully finishes her long-winded call and returns to her friend and you. After all that,  it turns out she’s mistaken a total stranger for someone she thought she knew, excuses are made and the stranger walks away, shaking her head.  You glare at your friend, finding quite a lot to say to her.

Or maybe you’re at a reception, standing alone.  A very attractive older gentleman, silver hair neatly gleaming , has been eyeing you.  He approaches with the tired old line, “Haven’t we met before?” He looks harmless and interesting so you rather daringly flutter your lashes and simper  “Perhaps.”

He replies,  “Let me ask my wife. She’s right over here and she remembers everyone.”  and he calls a lovely blonde over, explains the situation and disappears, leaving you floundering.

“Um-Ah, Nice day, isn’t it?”  etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Maybe you run into your very first boyfriend on a trip back to your old hometown.  You stare at each other in disbelief, meanwhile both thinking the same thought, “Yuck! I might have married that  weirdo.” There seems to be nothing to say. “Um. Uh, Hi there. Nice day isn’t it?” “Yeah, Hi to you too. Ah, er,  yes, very nice day.” ‘‘Blah, blah, blah. “ Another total impasse.

And occasionally there’s the reverse, where you’re trying not to make conversation.  You’re on a plane preparing for a long flight. You’re seated between 2 ladies who immediately set up a “let’s get acquainted”  chat over your head. All you want to do is find out who really done it in the last 100 pages of a gripping Whodunit. but they seem determined to be sociable and to include you in their visit.

Before you know it you’re confiding the ages  of your children, and sharing the horrors of childbirth with 2 people you’ve never seen before and will never see again.  Enough! Much better to be stuck searching for words than babbling on about your most personal life.

And then there are those thankfully few occasions when you make too much conversation, as in foot-in-mouth,  where no amount of apology will get rid of the humiliation of something you just blurted out, causing hurt feelings and dirty looks.

I still cringe when I recall bending over my neighbor’s baby, gurgling and cooing in her crib.  What I thought I was saying was, “What an adorable looking baby!” and what came out was “What a deplorable looking baby!”  Now, how do you un-say that? My neighbor still isn’t speaking to me.

So, yes, you can make too much conversation.  Better that we stick to commenting on the weather, no matter how boring it may be.

Downsizing

I think I’ve owned at least one of everything ever made at least once in my life. Looking back over countless moves through the years, I realise I’ve downsized every time, tossing out or donating boxes and bags of STUFF with each move, then ending up having to replace most of it as I settle into my new location.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? My reasoning? Always aiming towards simplifying my life by paring my belongings back to basics, yearning for that elusive feeling of not being owned by things.

Take for example a simple item like a shoe horn. Does anyone even own shoe horns anymore? With the popularity of velcro straps, loafers, tennies and flip flops, who needs shoe horns in today’s world? Apparently I do.

I came across two while packing for my most recent move (which happened to be the 39th move of my adult life). This discovery brought me to a halt while I dithered over those shoe horns. At least one had to go, if not both. I pondered. So did I dump them both into the nearest trash can? Well, no, not exactly.

That old bugaboo, “what if?” or “just in case” crept into my thinking. Let’s see now, I’m getting older. It’s getting harder to reach my feet. I may find a need for orthopedic type shoes in the near future. “What if” I suddenly needed a shoe horn and couldn’t find one? After all, they don’t take up much space. I’d better keep one “just in case.”

Then the next big decision – which one? – the handy little plastic one or the longer metal one?

Well, you guessed it. As I’m unpacking my belongings in my new home, there they are, both shoe horns, ready to use, “just in case.”

No wonder my downsizing efforts never work very well. When you multiply two tiny shoe horns by the many things it takes to run one of today’s households, you soon develop a real problem.

How many people do you know who own two refrigerators, one in the kitchen and one in the garage for the sodas and beer? Plus a freezer! This is in spite of the fact that no one is ever more than ten minutes away from a Mini-mart, a Quickee-mart or a Super-mart? At least I’ve never owned two refrigerators at the same time, not yet.

I’ve finally had to face the fact that the more things I get rid of, the more I replace. My feeble attempts at downsizing are doomed from the start. No wonder the landfills are overflowing.

I still long for a simpler life. Maybe someday I’ll get there, just as soon as I can get rid of those two shoe horns.

Creative Writing

My brother recently gave me a book entitled “642 Things To Write About.” As he handed it to me he commented,  “Here’s how to make a success of your writing. Just write about writing.” Simple! That made me think of all the  “How To For Dummies” books out there, and the endless supply of advice about beating the stock market and other Get-Rich-Quick schemes.  “How To Become A Millionaire Overnight,” now that’s always a winner. Advice is so easy to hand out but somehow so hard to put to use.

Scanning my gift  book, I’m soon bursting with new ideas, not 642 of them, but I do find lots of suggestions.  Some are challenging, some frivolous and some impossible. A lot of them leave me wondering “Why?” or “How?”

Opening my new book to the very first challenge on the very first page I read  “What can happen in a second?” Well, that’s easy, “Almost Anything,” I answer. Peeking ahead to the last challenge on the last page, my eyes pop as I read “Write your obituary.”  Now that one will take a little thought. In between, I scan page after page, amazed at the myriad possibilities.

Here’s a good one, “An argument at a Sunday dinner.”  My response, “I’m not carving today. Since Uncle Fred cut off both thumbs over the Thanksgiving turkey, someone else has to, not me.  I just paid $50 for a manicure. That’s $5 a nail and I can’t afford to lose one.”

Next comes “You’re in the interviewing stage of the Miss America contest. Besides your desire for world peace, what will you tell the judge?”  I answer, “My curves may have shifted a little over the years but they’re still there, plus a few more. And grey is a color, if you’re wondering about my hair.  Don’t be an ageist.”

Suggestion – “A perfect meal.”  My reply, “Any that ends with a chocolate frosted brownie.”

This is fun.   I rush on:

“Two guys walk into a bar.”  I scoff at this one: “Oh, Please! Not those same two guys again. They’ve been walking into that bar through at least 50 old jokes. They never do get far enough inside to get a decent  drink. Give ‘em a break.”

“What you won’t touch with a 10 foot pole.  Why?” I wrote, “My toes. I’m too short.”

“The corpse you saw in the undertaker’s window.”   “It winked at me. When I winked back it sat up and whistled. I should have stayed home and handed out Halloween candy but I wanted to see the decorations around town.”

Another suggestion,  “You forgot to pay your credit card bill.”  I come up with the following explanation: “Well, it was like this,  I was headed for my desk, checkbook in hand, when the phone and the doorbell rang at the same time. I answered the phone as I headed for the door. It was my bank.  A very nasty voice began ranting at me about my overdrawn checking account. I tried to explain but they wouldn’t listen so I slammed the phone shut. Sheesh, no sense of humor at all.  Meanwhile the doorbell kept ringing and in my rush to open it I tripped and fell, spraining both ankles and my right wrist. I dragged myself to the door, managed to open it with my left hand and looked up from the floor into the really angry face of a process server who jammed a sheaf of papers into my good hand and stomped off.

In my pain I had to call out to my neighbor for help as my family has deserted me and my friends no longer come around.  He called an ambulance and he’s texting this message to you for me, dear, sweet, friendly credit card people. Just as soon as I can swing a loan I’ll settle with the bank, the utilities, and a few other little obligations, then I promise I’ll pay your bill. Meanwhile just ignore the $380 I spent this morning at the BonTon Boutique, I’ll get to that later.”

Hey, I’m getting to like these writing ideas. I’m quite proud of that  last excuse. Let’s go for another idea. O.K, how’s this? “Write an X-rated Disney scenario.”  I write, “Mickey and Porky Tell All! Reveal details of their secret lives and show their private photo collections!”

Next one, “Summarize your dog’s life in less than 4 paragraphs.”  Do they mean my precious widdow FluffyBelle’s life? I could never do that in 4 paragraphs.  Or do they mean the dog’s life I led for 5 years before I finally threw my deadbeat 3d husband out?  Or was it the 4th?

Here’s a fun one,  “Write a poem about a tomato.”  I can do better than that, I’ll write a song, to the tune of The Girl From Ipanema.   “Short and round and soft and squishy, The red tomato goes rolling by. And when it rolls, each one who sees it goes  A-A-H.”

“Write about your worries 5 years from now,  10 years, 30 years.” Are they kidding? I’m in my nineties, I’m worried about the  next 5 minutes! 5 years from now I’ll be just a memory, 10 years and I’ll be a distant memory, and in 30 years they’ll be doing rubbings off my gravestone trying to decipher the dates.”

“Toto, if we’re not in Kansas anymore where are we?”   “Another darned tornado messed up my GPS.”

“Those men your mother always warned you about.”  “I married one. Mother was right.”

“Write a story using 4  L words: Lipstick, Lust, Loss and Locked.”   “My Lust for that Lipstick would create a huge Loss in my disposable income, so I Locked my wallet away, licked my lips and lost my Lust.”

“The biggest lie anyone ever told you.”   “Of course I’ll marry you, just as soon as I get back from my  honeymoon.”

And on we go: “Write the lyrics for a catchy jingle for a plumbing service.”   “Plunge in and Flush Away, Flush Away, Flush Away All.”

“You’re a Nigerian e-mail scammer. Write an e-mail that will convince the recipient to send you $200.”  I write “Please help me. I’m an American stranded in Nigeria, being held for ransom. They’re asking for 2 million dollars but will settle for  $200 if you hurry. p.s. Don’t use bitcoins.”

And last but not least:  “Describe your grandfather’s girlfriend.”   “What! Ick! Gross! Never!! He’s ancient, at least 70!  What’s this? You saw him with a curvaceous blonde bimbo in stilettos? What on earth would he do with somebody like that? And what would she want with a dried up old man like him?  Of course, he is a millionaire.”

Well, there you have it, a few samples of things to write about.  Only 600 and some to go and I can publish my book. I’ll call it “Writing For Dummies.”  Then I can sit back and wait for my success.

I wonder just how many copies of “642 Things To Write” actually sold.

Oh, yes, I really did write my own obituary a while back. I didn’t come out of it too well.  It was terribly hot down there and all my papers burned.