Monday, May 24, 2010

The Things They Left Behind

The shed in the backyard costumes itself as a play cottage complete with little windows, window boxes, and neat trim. I wish it were a play cottage for the children sometimes, but most days, I would prefer it to be a garage, large enough for two cars plus room for decent storage. Last Friday, in desperation to be able to painlessly extract the lawnmower and other tools, I began to tackle the disorganization hidden in this otherwise pleasant little structure. What I found inside amused me greatly.

Not just our things are in that shed. The previous residents, from whom we rent, left behind an inordinate amount of tools and handy items. They have no interest in reclaiming any of it, by the way. As I sorted through our belongings, I began to see that the shed had originally been quite tidy. The homeowners may have saved everything, but they designated a place for each thing. Each shelf, nail, and hook claimed some item—some usable, some outdated—all clues to the family who had lived here.

There was a tin with Greek writing; a plastic folding mirror, the cover stamped with the words American Woman; every doorknob, latch, and lock that belonged to the house when it was purchased from the family that originally built this place; wiring that had been removed from the house, ends spliced apart, waiting for reuse; a beaded chain that held at least 100 miniature keys; old phones of all kinds; and worn out men’s’ shoes. Grocery bags found in the shed held dates of that store’s anniversary in 2001. Hidden on high shelves were empty boxes from small appliances that have long since been absent from their hold. I found a small piece of wood, which had been drilled with a multitude of holes. About every other hole held a fat screw. Why? There were gloves that were like cotton paddles instead of with individual finger pockets. I still don’t know what one does with those. I also found a rather extensive selection of pick axes. The best find was a pair of glass wine bottles that the child of the house had painted herself back before she moved with her father and grandparents to Greece. She had drawn and filled with rainbows of hearts on the green glass, her childhood captured in a now foreign-to-her continent.

The things we leave behind are more interesting to others than ourselves. They raise questions and bring with it a degree of responsibility, too. I kept what was valuable or useful, left those things where they were found just in case, and threw out the dilapidated and decrepit. Certain things went to Goodwill. Our own tools went back neatly in place, too, but the unnecessary marks of former lives were removed forever, like the welcome sign to my husband’s last married home or curtain rods from the rooms of children now grown. The shed will need to be examined again, sooner than later, but this time, not by me. My husband can go through and sort more of his past from his present, and place order in a more refined sense from among olive jars of nuts and bolts and the frightening axe collection. He can stand in wonder at the world left behind by the former family. I wonder what will intrigue him the most.

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