Sunday, April 06, 2008

Saints of Junk

My husband never throws anything away. Ever. An old pair of jeans with rips and tears will one day be used in a tapestry. Magazines are stored in our overflowing carport for future collages and art projects. He and his father vacation junkyards, taking photos of old cars, but he inevitably comes home with doll heads, antique tinker toys, soda bottles, rocks, books, papers, letters, a comb, or a rusty, jagged piece of carburetor. He's a collector, an admirer of things. And as much as I admire his admiration, I really hate it. In fact I'm one of those mean wives who meets her husband at the door after a trip to the junkyard with arms folded saying, "No way are you bringing that into the house."

It's not because I don't appreciate the artistic quality of an old door handle. I do. But space is an issue in a two-bedroom apartment with two adults, one toddler, two cats and a Pomeranian. And someone has to be the bad cop, choosing diapers over car parts, groceries over tootsie toys.

In college, above our fireplace, my sister and I had a mangled car bumper hanging on the wall. It was art. It was, in a strange way beautiful, the random twists and dents of metal. But what gave it purpose, was that she was in the car when that bumper was smashed, hit by a drunk driver. She survived basically unscathed. But the bumper became a reminder to me of how precious my sister’s life is. It wasn't just metal, it was a story. There was meaning attached. And that is what separates art from junk. FD feels differently, oh yes. You might say, "one wife's junk is another husband's treasure."

This is a point of contention in our marriage, as I'm sure you can hear in the tone of this post. We have about seven deconstructed bikes in our carport; a wheel here, a frame there, pedals, chains, etc, etc. I fantasize about renting a u-haul and dropping these never-to-be-built-bikes off at the nearest junkyard, but I know the repercussions would be huge and futile. He would just hate me, and keep collecting handlebars off the freeway.

A couple weeks ago, I threw out moldy photos and paper scraps from the carport. FD had found the photos at a junkyard, but the rain and weather had completely erased the images. These were white, soggy, moldy pieces of paper. And our morning doves, which nested above, had also used this 'found art' as their bathroom. wouldn't believe how devastated FD was that I threw these prized possessions in the garbage. I thought for sure a messenger was going to show up at my door with divorce papers. I felt like a terrible wife, and yet, where do you draw the line between one person's passion and another person's sanity?

So I've been thinking. What things do I value, even more than my marriage (I'm kidding). What do I have to have, but not necessarily use. When asking FD if I can throw away a holey sock, he'll say, "I don't make you throw away your books!" And that's true. But I am always replacing the old with new, donating to friends and goodwill. I use them for references, and with poetry, the joy is in the re-reading. I lend, I trade, so it's more about the process of books, than the keeping of them.

It only occurred to me today while opening a letter from my mom that I was guilty of being just as crazy as my husband. After reading the letter, I put it in a box with thousands of other letters and cards. I realized my sacred possessions are 'thoughts on paper.'

If you have ever sent me a card or letter, or poem, recipe, scribbling on paper, I've saved it. My collection is in the closet with old high school poems, love letters, teen angst stream-of-consciousness crap, that I will hopefully have the wherewithal to burn someday.

Why can’t I throw these letters away? They're just words.

In a cigar box I have a small notepad where my grandfather, who was a farmer, wrote a list of seed and fertilizer prices. Nowhere in the notepad did he write anything meaningful or profound. It wasn’t a love letter, or journal entry, only numbers. But I will forever have a paper with his handwriting. In a way, it's an extension of him, like a fingerprint or snippet of hair. If I save his writing, it keeps a part of him alive. Maybe I save cards and letters from everyone, to preserve their essence on earth, to keep them immortal. This act of collecting handwriting is a symptom of my biggest fear; the fear that the people I love will someday die. It is insane, I suppose, saving every recipe and envelope. But the concept of collecting has very little to do with utility.

I won't pretend to understand my husband's affinity for collecting broken glass and sticks. Maybe it's deeper than just holding onto ‘things’. These car parts and doll heads were once valued pieces of someone’s life. And perhaps FD can’t stand the thought of them losing their value. Maybe he’s the junkyard saint, saving the souls of toys forgotten. Or I’m romanticizing, and he’s a packrat and I’m neurotic. I guess we’ll just let you decide.


Beverly said...

A beautiful post. My husband was an electrical contractor-a one-person businessman. He was forever holding onto outlets, switches, fixtures because someday someone might need them.

And sure enough, I'd see him rummaging through stuff because someone didn't have enough money to get the work done, and he would help them out by using recycled stuff.

So, even though it isn't exactly like your husband's collecting, I guess I understand a bit. I have never been very good at getting rid of stuff either.

The DutchMac Tribe said...

Oh ..... my ..... GOSH I feel your pain on this one! My darling Nike-obsessed husband has literally 40-some pair of shoes (this is AFTER I've forced him to clear out dozens of pairs already), posters, autographed mish-mash, pens, keyrings, RANDOM SHOE PARTS, sample fabrics, personalized balls, window hangings, tablecloths, coffee mugs, backpacks, stickers, ring binders of now-out-of-date marketing materials, DVD cases, USB sticks.....the list goes on and on. And yes, they're all emblazened with that $£&%-ing swoosh. He can't bear to part with any of it, even though the house we've moving into in 3 weeks time is less than HALF our current size.


I don't keep hardly anything, so I can't claim much responsibility, but I feel the need to absolve your guilt. At least the things you keep are tiny and can be packed away in clever space-saving features. Where the heck do I put life-sized fabric wall-hangings of Michael Jordan and Pete Sampras?!

But, like you, I'm not bitter .... :-)


Unknown said...

You are romanticizing. He is a packrat. I would go NUTS if I were you, but I am kind of obsessed with getting rid of clutter so I'm not the most objective person to ask. I actually get a high from dropping boxes of our old stuff at Goodwill. And don't even get me started on having a garage sale, its like the the highlight of my year! Oh, and I totally get excited when Peter Walsh, that organizing guy from Clean Sweep, is on Oprah.

Anonymous said...

my hubby too...not quite to the same extreme BUT awfully darn close. jcn