A few weeks ago, I told about beginning to clean out the family home down in south Alabama. Many of you wrote to sympathize with my plight on two levels. First, there was the emotional strain, for it is hard to see a home that was once full of life reduced to a house full of empty rooms. Then there was the physical strain that comes from having to move stuff that for years just sat there.
Last week, my wife and I returned to the task.
My lovely, having surveyed the scene, offered her advice — which I have learned to ignore at my peril.
“Get a big dumpster.”
Not convinced a dumpster was needed, I procrastinated until her advice became a command and a dumpster was ordered.
Soon after we arrived, so did the dumpster — 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and 5 feet high. The kind you see at construction sites.
“We’ll never fill that,” I thought.
Then we began.
“Stuff” had accumulated in closets and cabinets. Unnecessary plastic items, scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings, photo albums full of friends long gone from the earth, and boxes of loose photos of folks I had never heard of. Plastic and clippings went to the dumpster. Pictures were another matter.
My mother was the unofficial family archivist, and she took her task seriously. On the back of most photographs she wrote the names of the people in the pictures (something we all should do) and in some cases added a note telling where they were and what they were up to. There were pictures of her and her friends on a picnic to Silver Creek Falls. In another they were on an outing to Gulf Shores. Often the setting was as interesting as the faces of her young companions, faces in which I tried to find the faces of old folks I once knew.
She arranged the snapshots in albums and stored them away to be found by my wife, who greeted each new discovery with a plaintive cry, “Oh my, more albums.”
Unable to throw away Mama’s work, I carted it off to the local historical society, which accepted it with both joy and trepidation — joy because the pictures and comments highlighted the activities of members of some of the county’s oldest families; trepidation because of the size of the hoard and the burden it would put on the society’s volunteers.
Neither troubled me. What had been my problem was now their problem.
Meanwhile, it was getting crowded in the dumpster.
By the time we cleaned out most of the main house, trash and trash bags covered nearly half of the container, and I was beginning to realize that once again, my wife was right.
Then we turned to the attic.
I thought I had cleaned it out some time ago. If I had, no evidence of that effort remained. Though it had been at least a decade since my father had been able to mount the steps to that hideaway (and to my certain knowledge, my mama never ventured up there), we found National Geographic magazines dating back to the 1960s, Reader’s Digest condensed books and other publications in boxes that after years in the attic heat crumbled to the touch. Down they came and into the fast-filling dumpster they went.
Finally, we got to the duffle bags hanging from the rafters.
1st Lt. Harvey H. Jackson, 0-454358, stenciled on each.
I had already found Daddy’s military records and associated papers in another file downstairs. I had found the boots he wore while training to lead a cavalry charge against the Germans — fortunately for Daddy and the horses, the Army went mechanized before he went overseas.
The duffle bags contained a strange assortment of items, clothing mostly, moth-eaten and largely unsalvageable. Most interesting of the lot was a pair of longjohns he might have worn that horrible winter of 1944-45, when the Allies stopped the German advance in what came to be called the Battle of the Bulge. There also was his jacket with the bright 7th Armored Division patch. I saved the jacket and a belt with an unopened Army-issued first-aid packet, attached — glad he did not have to use it.
Meanwhile, items were set aside for the Methodist youth to host an “estate sale” to raise money for some worthy undertaking and relieve us from having to mess with it.
As the day wore on, our powers of discrimination between trash and treasure began to wane; and I suspect at the next sorting, many of the things we set aside for later consideration will find their way to the dumpster.
Yes, there will be another sorting.
’Cause the Poutin’ House remains largely untouched.
And another dumpster.
’Cause when we left, the first one was full.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist for The Star. Email: email@example.com.