I’ve been doing a serious garage and house cleaning. I do it a couple times a year. I always manage to throw a good bit out, but never quite get control. I’m no pack rat. Paramedics won’t find my rigored body underneath a collapsed stack of yellowed newspapers, but I have stuff. A month ago I cut my book collection in half – loaded up about fifty boxes and took them to the library. I still have way more books than I could ever read again. I have my best books on the bookshelf in the living room — Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, Don Quioxte, On the Road, and others. The rest are piled high in plastic bins in the garage. I have other bins too, but instead of books inside the bins are jumbled messes of old letters from past girlfriends, photos, concert tickets, records, magazines, momentos, souvenirs, old baseball gloves, sports equipment and trophies, and journals and papers and stories I wrote in grade school and high school and college, and then articles and speeches and more stories I wrote as an adult. They probably aren’t all worth saving. But I feel if I throw them out, I am throwing out a part of myself. I go into the houses and apartments of old people – some piled high with junk and barely navigatable, others barren – not much more than a couch, a TV on a stand, a bed, a table with two chairs, — and I wonder what my home or apartment will look like when EMS comes for me on that hopefully far off day. Sometimes I think I’d like to weed my stuff down to only what I could fit on a dresser in a one room elderly apartment. What would I bring? A sperm whale tooth I got as a child, a baseball card of my first hero Red Sox Tony Conigliaro, a cloth bookmark a girl sewed for me with the stitched words “Wise Madness is Better than Foolish Sanity,” two small Indian stone carvings one of a buffalo, the other a wolf, a few photos of close family and friends. What more do I really need?
Years ago, a friend of mine said I would one day end up like the old man in the Robert Frost poem, An Old Man’s Winter Night. All out of doors looked darkly in at him Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars, That gathers on the pane in empty rooms. What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand. What kept him from remembering what it was That brought him to that creaking room was age. He stood with barrels round him — at a loss. And having scared the cellar under him In clomping there, he scared it once again In clomping off; — and scared the outer night, Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar Of trees and crack of branches, common things, But nothing so like beating on a box. A light he was to no one but himself Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what, A quiet light, and then not even that. He consigned to the moon, such as she was, So late-arising, to the broken moon As better than the sun in any case For such a charge, his snow upon the roof, His icicles along the wall to keep; And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted, And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept. One aged man — one man — can’t keep a house, A farm, a countryside, or if he can, It’s thus he does it of a winter night. -Robert Frost “A light he was to no one but himself.”
But I am not alone now. I share my house with a woman and two children, and another one on the way. I need to make room.