Not Down In the Dumps
Just last week there was an article in the New York Times about parents downsizing and how none of their children want any of the “stuff.”
It was an abstract concept to me until this week.
Bonnie and I are at my step-mother’s home in New York, a house she shared with my father for more than 30 years. Sitting in the den, I realized that in his own meticulous, sophisticated way, my father had been a champion pack-rat.
No, their beautifully decorated home, filled with mid-century modern designer furniture and glorious artwork was not your typically cluttered and filthy A&E Hoarders house. And yet….
The bookshelves held a massive collection of art books, typography manuals, World War II histories, baseball encyclopedias, coffee table tomes, and other dusty, unopened-for-decades volumes that would have to go somewhere someday.
With my step-mom contemplating downsizing, someday meant now, when we were around to assist.
The local library offered good news—they’d take used books for re-sale.
Massive, stunning art books, with full-color prints by Chagall, Miro, and Lautrec, made their way to the back of our SUV. I dropped a Compendium of Contemporary Art on my foot, only to discover that in this case, “contemporary” meant seventy five years ago. Truly contemporary was the swelling bruise on my pinky toe.
We unloaded six hefty hard-back dictionaries, two Thesauruses (Thesauri?), four “encyclopedias of” things like English lit, baseball stats, public speaking quips, and Movie Trivia, all rendered completely archaic by Google. In fact, I just got the word archaic instead of obsolete complements of my computer screen.
Among the books considered for disposal were several paperbacks with titles like Conquering the Paper Pile-Up, Not for Packrats Only, Don’t be a Hoarder!, and other clutterati. That my step-mom decided to keep those showed her complicity in the problem.
As for that paper pile-up, we tackled boxes in the garage and excavated six cartons plus three file drawers of my father’s work product.
As former Creative Director for the CBS network, he was on the1950s team which designed the CBS eye logo. So we found dozens of logo “mechanicals” looking at us. In case you are not ancient like me, a mechanical is a hard copy drawing of the famous eye with words (ordered from a type house) glued on, plus overlays of colored gels taped over it all. Photoshop or In-Design now makes mechanicals superfluous (also a googled word). There were hundreds of copies of the celebrity retina in various colors, sizes, configurations. None bloodshot, like mine, from the delving and dust.
A few years ago I contacted CBS and the Museum of Broadcasting and asked if they wanted any of the “stuff.” They said they had plenty. Likewise, there was not a market on eBay, so…out to the back of the car went the hundreds of CBS eyeballs, full-page New York Times ads for Gunsmoke, Hogan’s Heroes, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Ed Sullivan Show with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. There were booklets advertising the CBS fall line-ups to advertisers, syndication ads for Mary Tyler Moore (“Moore for Less!”) and hundreds of TV Guide ads for The Carol Burnett Show, The Lucy Show, and the rest of my childhood.
Now you got to know I spent hours going through this “stuff” in case I could find an ad from 1957’s live CBS production of Cinderella with Julie Andrews. I do believe she was my first lesbian crush. I was nine. But no luck. That ad I would have kept, framed and worshipped.
We filled the back of the car twice with all the paperwork. I loved looking through my television history and yes, I did keep a few things. Shhh, Bonnie doesn’t know. I snagged an old Route 66 ad, because George Maharis was my last heterosexual crush and that show gave me my love for mid-sixties Corvettes.
Out, too, went books upon books of printing color charts (now online), and long lists and examples of 10,12, and 14 pt type faces, like Bodoni and Avant Garde. My father not only used those “new” type faces, but actually went to three martini lunches with the man who designed them. Much of this work was from the Mad Men era, fascinating to see, but overwhelming to keep.
In addition, we added to the dump load thousands of carefully saved photo negatives and duplicate or not-so-great photos from my childhood. How happy was I to toss the photo of a grimacing seven-year old me, in a tutu?
My parents ordered me to take ballet lessons, thinking it might make me, like my sister, more interested in cosmetics than cowgirls. The plot, of course, failed. So not only have I spared you that tutu photo, but also the one of me grinning in the Roy Rogers cowboy hat and holstered six guns.
I already inherited all the photo albums with similar photos, so out went these duplicate baby pictures, school photos, and photographic evidence that I was already a baby dyke in 1956.
So too, did we have to pitch a huge carton of my father’s old family photos. I would have loved to save these old fashioned formal portraits of my elders, but not a single one had a name on the back. Since there’s no one living to identify them, sadly, out they went.
If there’s one lesson to pass along, please I.D. all your photos on the back. Nobody else ever needs to go through a box of photos, looking at the faces of hundreds of unknown ancestors.
So it was quite a purge.
In the end, we paid $40 to deposit 300-500 pounds of trash at the dump. We dropped off three more trunk loads, much heavier than the dump-load, to the used book bins at the library. My guess is we unloaded about a ton of “stuff.” Maybe more.
The house is less cluttered and I sit here with an ice bag on my left shoulder rotator cuff. My pinky toe remains bright purple.
But the world has been deprived of one more photo of me in a tutu. Rejoice!
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach; For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries; Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach, and her newest book Fried & Convicted: Rehoboth Beach Uncorked.