The large cardboard box labeled BOOKS has been sealed tight with packing tape for seven years. The Bearded One hauls it inside from the red storage shed along with dozens of other boxes, but this is the one I dread. It’s big and heavy and ancient history.
“Where do you want this?” he asks.
“I don’t,” I say.
I am setting up the house like a thrift store, taping signs to the wall — Le Cuisine, Le Toilette, Le Boutique (two of our kids are in France at the moment…) — to make it fun and easy for my sister, mother, daughter and her husband when they come tomorrow to take what they want.
Shipping to Hawaii is expensive. We don’t want to take our life’s accumulation anyway, so we are sorting, distributing, recycling, dumping, and generally moving most all of our furniture and household possessions to their next level. All, that is, except a single 4’x4’x4′ pallet of choice items which will cost $425 to ship, and our 1991 Toyota 4-Runner that we hope will last until we die. Its postage is $2300.
Family heirlooms like the sewing chair, Grandma’s card table, and the photo albums are priceless and easy and have already been claimed and tagged. Gowns from both my weddings, the Bearded One’s bomber jacket, and the stained glass window he made may have some emotional value, maybe not. Vases, casserole dishes, candlesticks, games, two library walls of books. It all must go.
“It’s just shameful,” says the Bearded One as he makes another trip to the shed, “how much of my crap there is. I guess I must have thought that the Smithsonian was eventually going to call and ask for all my childhood personal effects.”
Me, too, I think. I have my Santa letters from 1960. Do I chunk them? I’ve got the writer’s disease, I’ve kept it all. My career has been about paper. Our eldest daughter reports that one of her first big words was “Manuscript”. The Bearded One says we could build a house of manuscripts in Hawaii.
Now I’m alone in the upstairs bedroom where I’m making piles for each of the three kids, plus Mom and my sister. And the time has finally come. I weigh the storage costs, the box contents, the value of a life. I slice the tape with scissors. I lift the cardboard top and look down at a familiar children’s book cover published in the spring of 1986. My first book.
What’s that smell? Musty.
The spine is slightly warped, the paper lush and fuzzy with mildew. Whoa, I think, surprised. Welcome to the Pacific Northwest. Mold dots the pages. They’re all this way. “What luck!” I say, ecstatic that there is no decision to make.
Growth has occurred, they are all ruined, and I can return these decomposing books to the earth from whence they came.