I’m weeding out my books. I need to make room… for something else. I’m removing things from my shelves. Books I have not opened in 10 years. Books I cannot remember the plots of. Books that don’t nourish me on a deep level. Books that someone else valued more than I do. I no longer need them here. I can always go to the library or a museum or look them up at Google books to see them, again. I don’t need to own them.
I’m going to get rid of things that “I might need someday”. These things I’ve kept for a rainy day have rarely been used. The adhesive on the bandages is probably dry. The expiration dates have long passed. The batteries are probably drained. I may regret this. But again I might not.
My father was a tinkerer. He’d fix things up. He’d figure out how to make something work better. And his workshop was a wonder. I loved his workbench in the garage, with that anvil looking thing that held things in place. By turning this little handle the jaws of this device would squeeze together and hold what you were fixing steady. And on the walls hammers and screwdrivers and paintbrushes, crescent wrenches and needle nose pliers and metal files. I loved the needle nose pliers the best.
At one time he owned a hardware store and I know why. He loved all that stuff – the washers and nails and screws and the different kinds of wire, the string, the colorful caps used to stop the electric current. He had remnants of sheet metal and aluminum, old shingles, and coils of tubing. He had jars of bolts and screw-in cup holders.
This part of my inheritance – the metaphorical and the physical – was accepted with delight and gave me a sense of comfort and security. With the stuff in the jars and these great tools, I’m prepared. Without thought, I, too, have become a pack rat. Bits of string, corroded paper clips, 6 staple removers, and little plastic feet for long forgotten electronics. Things I might need some day.
He seemed to always find a use for that cheap, awful red and white string. He seemed to need that one odd bolt in the round pimento jar – perfect for fixing something that broke.
The problem is, I am not a tinkerer. I don’t know how to fix things. And basically, I don’t want to know. Oh, I’m good enough to change a light bulb and I can handle paper jams in copying machines. But I’m not mechanical. I learned early on to let someone else check the oil in my car. And yet, one of my greatest collections has always been my tools and my jars of screws, nails, hasps, wire, and string. I have had these collections ever since I left home and had no access to my father’s collections. As a matter of fact, he started my collections – the one in my car in the canvas holdall he made and the one in my first apartment in New York. I thought these were great gifts.
When he died, we all wanted his tools. We wanted his Taster’s Choice jars of metal washers. We were more careful divvying up his screwdrivers and his handmade knives than we were about my mothers china. No one seemed to care about the glassware and the dining room furniture. When he gave his wheely cart to our cousin, Tim himself called me and told me – we were all aghast – and Tim knew we would be. I took the 50 gallon steel drums Dad had painted pale orange and yellow for patio tables. They sat on my porch in New Mexico and when I moved into an apartment in San Francisco, I gave them to Tim.
It’s hard to give this stuff up. “You may need this someday.” After an earthquake they might indeed be very handy. But here’s the thing. I don’t even know what I have. When the earthquake comes I wouldn’t know what to do with them anyway. I carry snowshoes he made in the trunk of my car. I haven’t been in the snow in more than 10 years.
I’m looking at my inheritances – the furniture I have that I don’t use because it isn’t comfortable. The glasses I don’t use because they are too valuable or too fragile. The bracelet I don’t wear because I’m afraid it will slip off my wrist. And I wonder what would happen if I just let this all go.
What if I surrounded myself with things important only to me? If I made room for things that will feed me in ways I don’t even know yet? If I simply made room for… something else?
What I realize is these things were important to someone else, not me. What I want is my father, not his bits of string. What I want is someone who likes to fix things while I watch. Maybe it’s time to make room for… someone else as well.
Causes Paula Hendricks Supports
Grace Cathedral Labyrinth Guild, Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, Litquake, Center for the Book, San Francisco Public Library