“As I sit here this afternoon in this disheveled room, surrounded by the boxes and bales that hold my undisposable treasure, I feel the onset of melancholy.”
Among the many books and journals and collections that make up my undisposable treasure is this gem by E. B. White, first published in 1954. Moldering on a shelf in a thrift store, the author’s name whispered to me and I paid my quarter for it. (Only a quarter to be delighted to find, among the 18 essays in the book, one called “Will Strunk.”)
But “Goodbye to 48th Street” is not necessarily my favorite short story – it is only the favorite of the moment as I sit in a disheveled room, sorting my life into boxes and bales and trying desperately to remember why I saved that piece of ribbon, who this person is in the photo, what I intended to do with a particular knick knack, doubtless also a thrift store treasure.
I’m not moving. I’m just trying to clear out some clutter, just trying to make sense of my treasures, to categorize and evaluate and eventually dispose of some of them. I admit it’s likely only to be able to make room for more and different treasures, but this house has reached critical mass. If I bring one more scarf, one more book, one more bottle of nail polish in, the house will explode.
While I was growing up – if, indeed, I ever really did – our family moved often. I remember eight houses in 16 years, and 11 schools. Starting over so often surely was a great part of making me what I am. Having to leave behind people, places and things so often has made me cling to things in my stock of treasures and yet it has also made me better able to let go of them.
“And in every place he abandons he leaves something vital, it seems to me, and starts his new life somewhat less encrusted, like a lobster that has shed its skin and is for a time soft and vulnerable.”
Another day, when the weather is sulky like the Mississippi of my youth, I may feel like picking up my book of Eudora Welty’s short stories, found at a tag sale after hearing her read “Why I Live At The P.O.” on a late-night talk show.
News about political unrest in some African nation may later make me think of "The Tercentenary Incident" and wonder again at the mind of Isaac Asimov.
With my inborn wanderlust, I love each and every essay in “To The Ends of the Earth” by Paul Theroux. I’ve actually been to most of the places he writes about, and sometimes pick it up again to relive a memory of my own through his ramblings.
There are a hundred more favorite short stories, a dozen or so favorite authors in my collection. They comfort me on a rainy day, these vignettes of other lives seen through a streaked window. I have recommended some to my nieces as they grow to beautiful young women and have wanderings of their own. I might reread one to a lover over tea in an afternoon café.
But today it’s “Goodbye to 48th Street” that’s my favorite, as I move a board game from the I-might-use-it-someday pile to the give-it-up stack, move a pair of 28-32 Levi’s from the Incentive Pile to the don’t-kid-yourself pile and a length of chartreuse houndstooth checked fabric from the Decorating Ideas pile to the what-was-I-thinking category.
But the only time a book of short stories leaves my undisposable treasure is when a better, hard bound volume crosses my path. I don’t search for them; they come to me, like cats, arching their backs to be petted and then left alone until the next time.