When I was about to become semi-retired I promised my husband I’d clean out the basement. Ten months later, it remained on the to-do list.
Then I saw a little chipmunk scramble up the foundation of our 148-year-old house and disappear behind the ceder shakes. Two days later, I saw a fat (or heaven help me, pregnant) one do the same thing.
The pest control guy walked me around the basement, ducking under and over pipes. Here are spots where they can get right in, he said, pointing out holes above the rock walls and below the nest-infested insulation. Here’s where they’re storing food, he said, waving toward piles of maple tree seeds in the corners. And here and there were chipmunk droppings, which, I realized, were nothing compared to mice droppings, which were here, there and everywhere. Yuk!
Warning to Chip, Dale and the Mouseketeers: Game on. First thing tomorrow the guy’s coming back to shop vac, disinfect, plug holes and set traps.
Truth be told, I don’t go to the basement except to empty the dehumidifier, write in the water meter readings for the city, bring up the turkey roasting pan on the fourth Thursday in November, and lug the Christmas decorations up in December and down in January. But I psyched myself up this weekend to do a Big Cleanout. Heavy duty contractor garbage bags from Allerdice, check. Respirator mask that wouldn’t fog my glasses, check. Broom, dustpan, paper towels, work gloves. IPad tuned to live-streaming WAMC and IPod clicked to soundtrack of “Hamilton.” Enough with the lists. Get to work already!
Throwing away stuff is like eating healthier. No one can nag or cajole you into doing the right thing. You have to decide for yourself when you’re ready to take pictures if necessary and part with that which neither you nor anyone you love will need, want or miss.
Ten hours later, five monitors, printers and computers are piled on the porch, destined for recycling at Staples. A bin of designer summer dresses that I loved, looked swell in 27 years ago (not blaming my 26-year-old, I’m just saying) and have absolutely no explanation for not passing on two decades earlier, will be donated to the shop that benefits Saratoga Hospital. Classic building toys that my kids outgrew in the ’90s are heading to the Franklin Community Center. And five swelling 42-gallon bags of crap are twist-tied in the garage awaiting a trip to the dump.
But some things I found down there were inarguable treasures. To me, anyway.
In a folder was the first page of the first story I wrote on deadline (on a manual typewriter, I might add) in my first journalism class, the assignment that hooked me into what became a lifelong career. “Not a bad lede,” was the high praise from the instructor, Dick Thien, using the old journalism style spelling for “lead” to refer to the opening of the story. “Good first effort on deadline.” He subsequently hired me as an intern in the newsroom of the daily paper he ran in Binghamton and later helped me land my first reporting job at The Saratogian.
On a shelf was a clock my father had carved out of wood, painted and decorated with a loving message on the occasion of the birth of his second grandson, and nearby was a ceramic lamp of a young athlete he made for grandson No. 1.
And in a container of stuff I’d stored without investigating after my parents passed, I found an iPad-sized chalkboard from pre-computer days. In yellow chalk my father wrote “I LOVE MURIEL. Jerry” and my mother had added, “I love” with an arrow pointing to his signature. I love you both, I told the chalkboard writers, and miss you terribly.
Purging tons of junk was incredibly good for my soul. So was discovering things worth saving.