Final Thought

Wrinkled newspaper

Call me a pack rat.

You can also say I’m sentimental and fairly disorganized. For instance, right now I’m sitting at my office desk, and near my elbow is last month’s copy of AY, just begging to be put away neatly on a shelf. If I did that, though, that copy would leave behind the half dozen other AY mags lying near it. I’d hate to have to separate them.

It’s OK. I’m not ashamed to admit any of this. As Popeye said, “I yam what I yam.”

I have been this way for as far back as I can remember. Take when I was in third grade. I showed up for class that first day of school with a ballpoint pen, thinking such a tool would be appropriate for this new phase of writing we were about to embark upon: cursive. Turned out we would stick with the old reliable No. 2 pencils, and that pen would be relegated to the bowels of my desk’s storage compartment, which soon became a rat’s nest. It was a pleasant discovery the next spring when, while cleaning out my desk on the last day of school, I came across that pen buried under the reams of worksheets covered in Cs and the many crumpled sheets of tablet paper covered with drawings of pirates, cowboys and World War II aircraft, colorfully artistic testaments to another year of underachievement. The pen’s ink had dried up by then.

I’m not sure what I did with the pen, but I’m pretty certain I took all those drawings home and put them in a drawer with all my other treasured artwork. My mother saved much of what I drew as a kid, so I have some primitive drawings dating to the Eisenhower administration. Somewhere.

Not to make excuses, but I come by my pack-rat ways honestly. My parents were kids during the Great Depression, growing up in a time and place where folks made the most of whatever materials they happened to have at hand. An old license plate, for example, would make a great patch for a hole in the wall. And newspapers were nearly as good as wallpaper to cover the cracks in that same wall. So my parents held on to things.

Several years before he died, my dad was showing me some of the items he had in a storage closet. He picked up a broken stereo speaker and asked me if I would like to have it. In one of my rare moments of resistance to such generosity, I said, “Dad, what could I do with a busted speaker?” He looked at me like the answer should be obvious: “Magnet!” (Just in case you were wondering, a magnet is used in transforming electrical signals into sound waves.)

That broken speaker is now collecting dust on a shelf in my garage.

But things are changing. To quote Popeye again: “I’ve had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more.” Call me Mr. Future Neat Freak!

Partly, my new de-cluttering campaign is based on self-preservation. I barely have room to move around in my office. If things get much more cramped, I’ll have to leave the room to change my mind. I’m also thinking of my loved ones. If I were to kick the bucket — which I hope won’t happen for another 20 to 30 years but one never knows, does one? — I wouldn’t want them to have to sift through too much junk trying to find something valuable. Oh, and there’s always the possibility someone, someday will want my neatly archived papers for their library. (Indulge my delusions of grandeur, please.)

On a recent Saturday morning, my wife, Julie, and I went to the basement and started ruthlessly going through things, thinking it best to start at the bottom and work our way up. It was daunting, but we disposed of box after box of canceled checks, some cheap plastic snow globes, and a slew of cassette tapes that had been down there since we moved to North Little Rock nearly 16 years ago. Among the more curious items we came across was a package of Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn. How did a single package of microwave popcorn end up with that other stuff? Oh, yes, I mentioned I’m fairly disorganized. I mean, why wouldn’t microwave popcorn go in the same box with cassette tapes?

To wrap things up, I’m making progress. But I don’t think I’ll be discarding that busted speaker anytime soon.

I’ll keep you posted.


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