Curbside Treasures

I swore my days of curbside shopping were over. My home is already full of recycled treasures, and I had an abundant supply of backups in the basement, waiting for a little love. But this! How could I resist?

It was almost brand new, probably less than 75 years old, and in great shape if you saw past the peeling laminate finish and scratches. Best of all, it was Sunday, and pick-up day on this street wasn’t until Tuesday (some things frugal people just can’t un-know), so this little beauty was fresh!

Now, all I had to do was fit a four-foot vanity into a three foot trunk. Never one to shy from a challenge, I backed my car as close as I could and planned my assault. In my youth I would have simply picked it up and stuffed it in, then fixed whatever damage I did later. Now, with 50-plus years of bodily abuse behind me, I needed a different tactic. Funny how some moving blankets and rope just happened to be in my trunk, waiting for opportunity to present itself.

Fortunately, before I lifted a finger, help had arrived! He was a guy about my age, tired from moving his mother’s things from her place, his childhood home, to his. She held on to her home far longer than she should have, and eventually succumbing to an assisted living facility that did not have room for her things.

“Careful not to scratch it,” he said, as he helped me pull the drawers out of their spaces and take the mirror off of the back. “You can replace the laminate if you’re handy,” he continued, “and if you go over it with some of that stuff the consignment shops use it will be as good as new.”

We worked together taking his mom’s vanity apart, placing part of it in the back seat and the rest of it in the trunk. “I’ve got another blanket and some better rope,” he said, and I let him take charge of the operation.

“Why don’t you keep it?” I asked, curious now, as he seemed reticent to let another piece of his mom go. “My wife would have liked it,” he explained, “but we lost her last year to breast cancer; just me and my son, now, and we just don’t have room for it.”

Repairing old things is a labor of love under normal circumstances. This project meant a little more.

A woman spends a lot of time at her vanity; it is her place, filled with things only she understands. I removed some pins from the creases in the drawer bottoms, peeled some old labels from the sides, filled nail holes that held … photographs? Love letters? Shopping lists? Maybe all three but I will never know; some secrets are never meant to be revealed.

I polished the brass, scoured the wood, inside and out, shined the mirror and put it back together. When I was done it didn’t look all that different than it did on the curbside.

Half of the fun of recycling something is the thinking that accompanies the work. Mundane tasks allow the mind to wander. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the man who had to let go of both his wife and, soon, his mother. And I thought about his son, who had lost his mom and, inevitably, his grandmother. The fact that I was doing the work in hopes of making the woman in my life a little happier was not lost on me.

The things we accumulate as life moves on are disposable, even those things that mean the world to us while we are living. We may not be able to “take it with us,” but we can certainly leave some things behind.


World Gone Mad?

The world is going mad, and has been for quite some time. Just in case you think the end is near, allow me to offer some perspective; I was a kid in the sixties, a teenager in the seventies, a young man in the eighties, an older young man in the nineties, a middle aged man in to 00’s and still in the middle in the 10’s. During my time on earth, things have remained pretty much the same. It just seems we are closer to the edge these days. In reality, we have been teetering on it since somebody invented us.
Yeah we have terrorists to deal with, and thugs a plenty, seems like everybody has a cause these days, some injustice or another to protest about, and let the world know how oppressed we feel. Truth is, we are no worse off now than we were fifty years ago. The sad thing is, we are no better, either.
It is understandable that the youth of today feels hopeless.
They, more than any other time in history are aware of every little mistake that somebody makes, every act of terror, every abuse of authority and every tragic occurrence. We are all bombarded with images of grief and destruction- every day, day after day. It’s enough to drive a person mad.
Imagine for a moment World War II with Twitter. Or Viet Nam on Facebook. Or Columbine on Instagram. The general population would have been horrified if they knew what war looked like up close and personal, and had their inboxes inundated with every heartbreaking story that happened, as it happened. But just because we were unaware does not mean that these things didn’t happen far more frequently than they do today. The world is a violent place. Having our homes and minds violated by that violence has created an atmosphere of doom and oppression that simply does not exist in our everyday lives.
I spent a quarter century as a firefighter/EMT in Providence, RI, a small city with its’ fair share of violent people. I responded to hundreds of shootings. I never saw a gun except on the belts of the police. I’ve never seen an ISIS flag in person, but I know exactly what one looks like. I’ve never personally witnessed a beheading, but because I can be an idiot I was dumb enough to search the internet for one. There were plenty.
By allowing these images to become reality, I have, in effect created a false reality that I need to override on a daily basis. Because I have lived longer than a lot of people, and remember nuclear bomb drills in grade school, daily overdoses in high school, stabbings in nightclubs, race riots, the KKK, assassinations, genocide, famine and true oppression I am able to do so. I know that terrible things exist. I also know that I have a very good chance that terrible things will not happen to me, hence my cheery outlook for the future.
I worry about people who choose to live in a bubble. Without the perspective gained from living in the present, and seeing for myself that though there are dangers lurking everywhere, those dangers will not affect me, a doomsday attitude may very well overtake the optimism needed to thrive in a difficult world. I wish I had the power to make social media go away, at least until we have the opportunity to grow as human beings, and understand that in a world full of people, focusing on the horrors that some unfortunates experience will only invite depression and anxiety into our lives. Being aware of heartache, danger and the potential for catastrophe is far different than inviting it into your thoughts every day, and letting it fester.
Life is for living, not watching. Live your life, taste it, feel it and enjoy it. Be aware, not afraid. Know that kindness overrules cruelty, and that though it takes time to see and understand it, life is ultimately fair. There is a reason for it, and some day that reason will be clear. Until then, just breathe it in and make your place in the world beautiful.

When the Last Candle was Lit

By Michael Morse

They’re in my rafters, silent and dark, in the boxes that I stored them in last January. I’m sitting here, quiet and tired, wondering if this is the year that they stay where they are, and what they are; inanimate objects gathering dust in a place that nobody goes. I see in my mind what I could create with those things, bushes illuminated, doorways made festive, windows lit with a soft glow from a candle bought in a different time, in a different home.

The problem is I just don’t feel like doing the work needed to pull it off. When the reward for doing a job no longer makes doing the work worth the trouble, many jobs just don’t get done.

A giant house with all the things that go with it just wasn’t worth the effort after our kids established lives of their own, so we moved into a smaller house, with less work to do. When the kids visit Mom and Dad’s house now, they no longer think of it as their own. I had to remind them they don’t need to knock before entering. Without memories a house is just a place to live, and we hope that the magic we created a lifetime ago won’t be as forgotten as the candles in a box in the rafters.

It seems like yesterday that I lived in my parents’ home. When Christmastime was truly magical it was up to me to make sure all of the candles were lit in our windows. The bulbs were orange then, the candle sticks colored ivory with plastic wax dripping down the sides. They were placed between the real windows and the storm windows, the heat they produced enough to melt the frost and sometimes ice that lived between the glass, creating a halo of orange light surrounded by almost surreal whiteness.

I couldn’t wait for sunset most days, and as the last traces of light receded to darkness I would begin my work, first downstairs, plugging the ends of the electric cords into the outlets that turned them on. There were five windows on the ground floor of the colonial, and it didn’t take long for me to plug all five in. The effect was okay, but lost with the everyday lighting and the racket from my brother and sisters, and the noise in the kitchen from my mother’s meal preparations.

It was upstairs where the true Christmas Spirit resided, in the bedrooms. Only during Christmastime was I allowed access into my parent’s room without an invite, and my sister’s room without being chased into it. It was quiet up there, nobody but me, and I took my time, basking in the orange glow in each room before moving on to the next.

I saved the room I shared with my brother for last, and after the final candle was lit would lie in my bunk bed and let the serenity I created fill me with happiness. I wouldn’t spend long up there. I didn’t want to miss what was happening downstairs: some treat to gobble or game to play. But for perhaps five minutes I would lie there feeling connected to something far bigger than myself, or anything I could imagine.

I close my eyes and bring the memories back. Before long I’m off the chair, eyes wide open, coat on, hat and gloves in the pocket and out the door, into the garage and up the ladder. The boxes are right where I left them last year. A few candles wouldn’t hurt, I think, and before long every last snowman, elf, Santa and wreath is on the garage floor, waiting for me to create something magnificent.

You can take away the things we accumulate as our lives unfold, but nothing can deprive us of the memories forged by doing the work needed to create them. A little hard work never killed anybody, and I’ll be damned if I let memories yet to be experienced die before they have a chance to come alive in my family’s continuing story.