I wanted to write a post about my FIL’s typewriter, the one that he used to send me a letter every week when I was in boarding school and how I felt seeing it on his desk, and how I felt when I carried it out to the dumpster (there is not a large market for 1950’s typewriters, and I could think of nothing useful to do with it, and no sensible reason to keep it, and there were other things to keep, but still, I watched Mr. Spit throw it in the dumpster, and I felt older.)
I’m going to write about toothbrushes instead.
My FIL was born just before the Great Depression, and while he was fairly fortunate because both of his parents worked, he never forgot doing without. When you are a Depression child, you never throw anything out when it still has a bit of use in it. You hold on to things. It’s a maxim – use it up, wear it out, make do, do without. Mr. Spit and I could do better at this maxim.
My SIL and I were cleaning out the master bathroom today, and while that was a wholly unpleasant experience, among the more humorous things found were 12 used toothbrushes, neatly placed in a clear plastic bread bag. As you might imagine, I threw them out, along with the asprin that expired around the time I started high school, a styptic pencil, a hot water bottle so old it broke in half when I tried to open the box and the ugliest sport coat in all creation. (And don’t you tell me the poor could have used that sport coat. It is bad enough being poor, no one is so poor that sport coat would have been anything other than a dizziness inducing abomination. Things that ugly cannot be warm. They are only ugly. They can only be ugly.)
My FIL had carefully saved every thing his son’s ever coloured, all of their art projects, every model airplane they ever built, wood from a million projects, and tins. Lots of small tins. There was a bottle of car cleaner with an endorsement from Mr. T (which, in light of the recent movie, seems strangely current again) and a bottle of ski wax with the french bit incorrectly translated – wax is not “fart” in french. (It’s cire, also, my husband has not ski’d in 30 years). We have found homes for things, the furniture divided up and given to some university students, a recently married couple. The small household implements and goods will go to the Sally Ann on Thursday, the unopened food to the food bank tomorrow. A few odds and ends to family friends, and what tickles me most, all of those wood ends to a 12, 9 and 8 year old boys, who would like to build a fort in their back yard.
But still, there are a things left over. Things that have meaning, that were saved, carefully for a particular reason, things that were used – made do and not worn out yet. Reminders of a full and long life, of hanging on to things because you might need them, or you might be able to give them to someone who did. Things hedged against a level of want I have never known, hedged against potential use, held on to because they meant something, because there was a bit of use left. I could hear my FIL in my head as I was wantonly binning things that I thought were useless.
He got his own back. About 2 hours after I threw out his toothbrushes, I was cleaning the floor registers. I needed a toothbrush to get into the nooks and crannies. My father in law, the consummate teacher.
I love your last paragraph. ROFLOL
I understand the keeping 12. Really. I do.
LOL. I have my own collection of used toothbrushes for cleaning those nooks & crannies. I don’t think I have 12, though. And I probably have every piece of paper our nephews drew on at our house in my desk drawer. I’ve been meaning to go through it all & toss some of it, but it’s hard.
Even the ugliest of sport coats could find a home – there is always some hipster who believes in “so ugly it’s cool, as long as it’s old.”
I’m glad the clearing of possessions is going along…and that you can find some humor there.
Funerals are hard. Cleaning out someone else’s things is really hard. Enjoying memories of your loved ones good qualities and legacy is beautiful.
That last paragraph made me smile!
My grandfather was a Great Depression kid too. He would always say “that will be worth something someday.”
I grew up hearing you might need that one day. If a notebook had one piece of paper, we kept the notebook. My attic is filled with my old toys, which my daughter now plays with now. Hoarding is such a hard to break habit. I have to give myself permission to throw things away. It’s hard. As I type, I can hear the crap in my basement multiplying…ugh.
Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without. I grew up with those words. Now I know that sometimes it’s good to let go. You are doing exhausting work. Take care of yourself.
you are all working so hard at a difficult task. I am so glad there is room for laughter and memories too!
It is definitely a trait of that generation — my FIL won’t throw anything out and he will use it until it literally disintegrates! When we buy him new things for Christmas, he stores them away in the packaging, unwilling to use them because what he is currently using is “still good.”
I’m sure this has been a tough week for you. It’s good to hear that your mind has been so full of many great memories of someone so special to you.
Your FIL, my grandmother. Pens, pens, pens. Tiny pencil stubs. But what I loved most was finding chocolate hidden everywhere — pockets, purses, drawers, carriers. Reminded me that we’re cut from the same cloth.
May you all find some peace in this process.
My mother recently cleaned out my grandmother’s things and said she found tons of perfume. Bottles and bottles—to last a lifetime. Expensive stuff too. I love that we all have little quirks that will stay with the people we leave behind….
Hmm, sounds like getting rid of the sports coat was truly an act of mercy.
My heart sank as you binned that typewriter and I clicked away to ebay, and thought see Mrs Spit could sell it or give it to Good Will or some child would love to have that. Can you tell that I have allot in common with your FIL? and when you talked about the 12 tooth brushes my first thought was oh, how good for all that cleaning she has to do!
Perhaps that is why my garage is full and I cannot buy any more books, my new policy is one book in two books out, one article of clothing in, two out, etc.
I remember weeping the day I cleaned out FIL’s famous gigantic garage that he built with your father’s help. In a drawer full of miscellany I found a sturdy and somewhat large steel hinge, the kind that had been used to mount the garage’s heavy insulated doors. He bought it from the hardware store next to the grocery store we shopped at weekly for years. The price sticker, from days long before bar codes were a thing, was around $8. In whichever year he bought the hinge, even if it were as recently as 2010, that was a lot of money for such a humble item.
From my youth–and I mean when my age was in the single digits–the thing that has most reliably made me cry was when someone tried to do something nice, and it didn’t work out. Is there a term for this? A thwarted blessing, I suppose, is a way of putting it.
Dad wouldn’t have bought that hinge had he not meant to use it (he may have KEPT things for later use, as you describe, but he never bought things he didn’t need). It made me think of other handyman projects he never got around to as much as he had hoped, such as the wood creations he was going to craft after purchasing and setting up all those shop tools and machines. That hinge lying in the drawer in its original plastic wrapping was evidence of a step taken to produce a blessing that never worked out. I can picture my dad going to the hardware store, chatting up the staff, making people laugh, selecting just the right piece to finish the job, handing over his cash, bringing home the hinge and putting it in the drawer, to get to … someday. But there was no someday.
The hinge rests now in my box of sentimental treasures, which is label “Lukey’s Special Things.” That hinge is, in fact, producing blessings.