Jack Zaleski, Published April 21 2012
Zaleski: Just things, you say? Not really …
Last year, we culled our book collection, boxing up several hundred volumes and handing them off to a used-book store. It was doubly painful: physically because of hefting the boxes; emotionally because tossing the books was parting with old friends. When I see the gaps in our once-stuffed-to-the-ceiling shelves, I almost feel the spirits of the sacrificed books that lived there for decades.
So, what to do with all the other things? What to trash? What to save? What to donate to a charity? What to pass on to inheritors? Do they care about these things as much as I do?
- No one cares more than I about my 1950s-era Lionel train set, still in the classic orange, blue and white boxes. Hasn’t been on the tracks in years, but when I disturb the dust on the storage crate, I can still hear the chug-chug I first heard as a 6-year-old.
- We own a marvelous collection of ’60s vinyl records, including albums by Peter, Paul and Mary, Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vee and early Beatles. Can we bring ourselves to part with ’em?
- The microscope I used in pre-medical studies in college sits under a dust cover in one of those bookshelf spaces. State of the art then, it probably has attained antique status by now, although its lenses still do what they were designed to do. I fixate on its classic single-ocular design, and can still smell the chemicals and preservatives in the biology lab where I spent so many hours hunched over that scope.
- A scarred and scuffed wooden trunk that came from Sweden with my wife’s great-grandmother represents her family’s history from the mid-19th century to today. It’s traveled from the old country to Wisconsin to western North Dakota and finally to Fargo. The tales it could tell …
And so it goes. Every long-neglected shelf in the storage room hides treasures and memories. Every opened box reveals links to the past: history written in the dust; fleeting and faded recollections of good and bad times, of family members long gone, of times that seemed simpler, but probably were not.
So, all you aging boomers: How do we sift through the things that helped define our lives? Mere objects, you say? Just things, after all. True enough. But the stories and history, the love and the pain, the triumphs and losses embodied in the “things” make it hard to let go.
Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.
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