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While cleaning my closet, I found optimism

I wasn't really thinking about what I was getting myself into when I decided to tackle the trappings of the walk-in closet. Of course that was until I found myself surveying the piles of pictures and notes and old things that I never had the heart to throw out.

What a mess.

What to do with all this stuff I had collected over the years, tossed into 30 gallon plastic storage bins and stuffed into the closet to be dealt with later?

I am a pack rat of the sentimental sort. There's no doubt about that, what with all these pieces of my life spread across the queen-size quilted bed in our master bedroom. Among it all: my very first $200 rent receipt from 1977 that was split between two roommates for the knotty pine cottage on Cape Cod during our college years; the eldest's baby book that was left two-thirds finished — probably because life got real busy after his younger sister came along. A baptismal candle — I'm not sure whose — and an undated "you're special" note card from my grandmother telling me how much she had enjoyed a wonderful birthday dinner with family and that Aunt Dot had been feeling poorly as of late. There's the small leather puppy collar for our first brown and white spotted springer spaniel, Jason, who one day broke free to chase the orange tiger cat and ran into the path of an oncoming car. Bunches of old family pictures, a shoebox filled with negatives I'll never get reprints for, a stack of kindergarten paintings created by what I thought was a future Picasso, and a homemade Father's Day card meticulously covered end to end with crayon-drawn hearts and I love yous.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, I think as I find myself thumbing through my parents' wedding guest book — the one I inherited after my dad remarried and emptied his house out.

"I thought you might like to have this," he told me, probably because he didn't have the heart to throw it out, either.

May 26, 1951. The maid of honor was Louise Ann Collins. John W. Fee Jr. was the best man. Miss Virginia Downing gave them a teapot. My great Uncle Clayton gifted them with five bucks. Dad always said he was a cheapskate. Of course $5 could go pretty far back then. It could pay for half of one night's stay for a honeymoon cottage at the Blue Top Motor Court in Niagara Falls, Ontario, I realize, as I come across the hand-written receipt for that. It could cover most of a pretty fine meal, according to the souvenir menu from the Queenston Heights Restaurant: fried sea scallops for $2, filet mignon for $3.25, grilled lamb chops and mint jelly for $2.25 — all with fruit cup, juice, soup and salad. I wonder if they sprang for the shrimp cocktail for 40 cents or split a piece of apple pie a la mode for 15 cents.

My mind gets to wandering and pretty soon I'm wondering how much it would help if I could knock $20 — what would have been a two-night stay at the Blue Top Motor Court — off my current weekly food bill. Maybe that would help offset the recent pay cut.

Times are tough all over, and in the wider scheme of things my pay cut is really small potatoes. I know that as others around me grapple with their own setbacks, reminding me, "At least you have a job."

It is human nature — a coping mechanism, I suppose — that our brighter side sometimes means noting someone else's dire side. "It could be worse," is the oft-heard perspective that makes me think about how lucky I am to not live in Indonesia or Samoa, where hundreds of people's lives were literally washed into the Pacific Ocean this past week.

That's real devastation.

And so I gather that it's time to get back to the business of plugging along, to tackle the things I have control of, like knocking $20 off the weekly food bill and sifting through the trappings of the closet and all those storage bins that are chock-full of the many blessings that are the pieces of my life.

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com or at (727) 869-6251.

While cleaning my closet, I found optimism 10/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 4, 2009 5:43pm]
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