Two years ago, my husband died suddenly, leaving me a garage that was full of household hazardous waste, car parts, hobby paraphernalia and sports equipment. His dead El Camino was squeezed in there, too.
The routine is familiar. I plan ahead to the day when my truck will be out on the drive, giving me access to loaded shelves. I will work for an hour, or until the trash cans are full.
Yes, I said “my truck.” It was my first garage-cleaning trophy, the same aforementioned El Camino. I lost sleep over it; automotive mechanics was definitely not my forte. How could I bring it to life? Spurred on by the license renewal notice, I bought a battery charger at K Mart and followed the directions. The truck started! Hong’s Auto Repair changed the spark plugs and connected it to the smog test machine. It passed. Sometime during that day, “John’s truck” became “my truck.” My trophy.
Today, as usual, I had to start with the whys. Why did John have to die so young? Why didn’t I nag him about being a pack rat? Or not cleaning up the garage? Are all ex-farmers that way? Why couldn’t he have been a man of one interest, like model airplanes? Instead of a gardener, beekeeper, marksman, fisherman, car tinkerer, wine maker, scuba diver, cook, and tool collector. (The tool collection increased each time John worked on my car. I, of course, had the responsibility for buying the “proper tool.”)
Today, I am down to the fun part. The fertilizers, pesticides, wine making supplies and pure junk are gone. This morning, I investigated the stuff that John cared enough about to put in a labeled carton. The label and the box contents often did not match, so opening each one brought a smile with a trip down memory lane, an “ugh” of disgust, or a puzzle to solve. Should I store this copper-wire-wrapped gizmo with the car parts to give to a trade school, or with the metal to sell, or just toss it in the already too heavy trash can? I yielded to temptation and put it on the “I don’t know what to do with this/maybe a garage sale” shelf.
I found today’s garage-cleaning trophy inside a small box which John had placed in a larger carton, marked “misc. camping supplies.” The soft white leather of an ice skate shoe glistened at me as I opened the flap - the blades still shiny and free of rust. I sat there on the step ladder, the skates on my lap, and journeyed back to the Christmas I’d received them.
My family had moved from St. Louis, MO to Red Bank, NJ to be near my father, an army reserve officer who’d been called up in World War II, and stationed at Fort Monmouth. We lived near the Navasink Inlet which afforded ice skating in the cold winters.
My twin brother and I had begged Santa Claus for ice skates. Mother had found two pair at Sears, made before the war. The shoes of my figure skates were white, and my brother’s hockey skates black. My fun loving father switched one skate from each pair with one from the other pair before Mother wrapped them. I remembered the shivery excitement of finding skates under that tree - and the despair when I realized someone had made a mistake. My skates didn’t match. I couldn’t use them that very day. Finally, my father confessed. (I still get emotionally involved in an issue before looking for logical solutions.)
Those skates from long ago brought more memories: the feel of freezing breezes on my face as I crossed rough ice; my pride in learning to stop on my toes; the tingle of fingers warming over a bonfire; and the scary thrill of gingerly sneaking onto the ice while ignoring the “thin ice” signs in the spring.
Today, as I dusted my latest garage cleaning trophy, those ice skates, I contemplated where to display them. I have no trophy wall in the den. My modern fireplace has no mantle. I think I’ll hang them from the rear view mirror of my truck.