In Which I Excavate the Cedar Closet

Yesterday I was struck by one of those random housecleaning impulses, and I decided to shovel out my cedar closet. The house was built in the 1950s, and the lining of the closet hasn’t actually smelled like cedar (or anything else) in a long time, but it’s big, and I’ve developed an unfortunate tendency to throw things in and close the door.

I suppose it was opening that door recently that made me think of the project. I’ve been making an effort to get rid of stuff I don’t need, and the mess on the floor of the cedar closet certainly qualified. I knew my suitcases were in there, and assorted seldom-worn clothing, and my college steamer trunk, which I’ve been dragging around since the late 1960s.

I started with my luggage, an inexpensive three piece set I bought in 2011 because I flatly refused to touch, much less open, any of the near-antique suitcases in the attic. My new luggage was designed to be nested—the tote bag into the small suitcase into the larger one—instant neat.

BagsThen I started pulling out the other bags. Tote after tote.  Some of them with logos, subscriber gifts from magazines. Others with zippers and compartments and shoulder straps, the sort of thing Jack brought home regularly. One full-size duffel bag. Two salesmen’s sample cases belonging to Jack (who never sold anything involving samples). Several backpacks left from our years of archeological survey work. One tote, still wrapped in plastic, from Roi Namur in the Marshall Islands, a souvenir from one of Jack’s trips. Two wheeled luggage carriers for all those wheel-less suitcases in the attic.

Also scattered on, under, or between all those tote bags were one bedspread (wrong color), one mattress pad (not needed on my new bed), one reading pillow, a red and green storage container full of Christmas decorations (unopened for several years), and one Army surplus canteen. And, sitting on the steamer trunk, one small TV set.

Once I’d hauled all that out and swept the floor, I attacked the clothes. I’d found one box of forgotten pullover tops on the floor, and hanging on the racks I found several dresses I haven’t worn in ten years; eight shirts that belonged to Jack; seven coats or jackets, only one of which had been out of the closet this winter; two hanging organizers (each half full of sweaters, scarves, hats and gloves, none of which had been out of the closet this winter); and assorted pullovers, sweaters and sweatshirts.

Now I arrived at the shelves, where I found one VHS player/recorder of unknown age and condition. Three handbags I will never use again, and two remarkable ugly clutch purses. One empty Tiffany & Company box—I have no idea what it once contained, or why I saved it. One bonnet style hair dryer, once needed for a hair style I haven’t worn in years. One Christmas wreath (plastic). Six empty magazine storage boxes, migrants from a previous cleaning episode. Hats. Lots of hats, spilling out of a carton. Jack collected hats. One large carton containing Jack’s childhood stamp collection. Two guitars and one small accordion, which Jack never learned to play, despite the rudimentary instruction book with it. And one beekeeper’s veil.Bee Keeper

When I finally made it back to the steamer trunk, I found it full of knitting and needlework supplies. And tote bags.

Most of the tote bags are on their way to the trash, although I kept the one from the Marshall Islands. I have more totes in my office than I will ever need, including three from RWA conferences and half a dozen from various charities. Much of the clothing has been packed to donate, although I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of Jack’s shirts (most of which I made for him, from fabric he chose), and I kept more coats and jackets than I need in this climate. I combined the two sweater organizers and threw one out—the other goes as soon as I buy some plastic storage bins.

The closet isn’t empty, but it’s neat. I can see the floor. There’s more to do. The hats I’ll have to sort through—a few have some sentimental value. The needlework supplies in the steamer trunk can sit for a while; the luggage carts are in the garage. I’ll get rid of a lot of what’s left, eventually.

But I’m keeping the canteen. And the beekeeper’s veil. You just never know when you might need such things.


Cleaning the House With a Shovel

Last evening I spent half an hour looking for my corkscrew.  I was sure I had one, a old-fashioned wooden model, and judging from all that I found in my kitchen while I wasn’t finding the corkscrew, I haven’t thrown out a utensil or appliance of any kind since I moved into this house in 1976.

Understand that I rarely cook.  I’m actually a perfectly competent cook, or I was when I had someone else to cook for.  But I’ve lived alone, except for pets who prefer their dinner straight out of the can, for eleven years.  I’ve pretty much gotten out of the habit of using anything but the microwave and, once in a while, the glass cooktop.  The wall oven hasn’t worked in years.

I have in my kitchen four toasters.  One lives on the sink, where I use it once a week or so.  The other three are in various cupboards, and I have no idea (a) why I replaced them or (b) why I kept them.  I have two blenders, and I haven’t blended a thing in years–I think we had them mainly for mixing exotic drinks involving fruit and rum.  There’s a toaster oven, too, and various small baking tins that fit inside it.  All these hide in a cabinet that I rarely open, along with several dog dishes and accessories.  I haven’t had a dog in about four years.

In the bottom of the pantry, along with one of the toasters and a couple of gallons of very old water, is a coffeemaker that hasn’t been used since Jack drank his last cup some eleven years ago.  In another cupboard I spotted a very large electric frying pan and an electric wok.  I’m pretty sure there are a couple of full-size crockpots somewhere; I know there is a small, never-been-used one in a dish cupboard.  I bought that because it was so cute.  Maybe this winter I’ll get around to buying a very small pot roast to cook in it.

Above the defunct wall oven is a cupboard where I keep the paper towels.  It also contains a few back-up dish towels, half a dozen forgotten paper cups, and the last unused Sham-wow.  Way in the back I spotted three thermos jugs and an authentic metal saltine cracker tin, left from a long-ago career doing archeological surveys (ditto the shovels in the garage and two Marshalltown trowels in my gardening tools, but that’s a whole different inventory).  Under the oven I found a whistling tea kettle (I don’t drink tea, either) and a couple of folding Sterno stoves, probably left from some long-ago hurricane adventure.

The cupboard under the cooktop is full of pots and pans.  The Corning Ware pots and casseroles were mostly wedding presents.  I was married in 1969.  There’s a large collection of frying pans with non-stick coatings in various states of deterioration.  The only one I use in an Orgreenic pan I bought last year (I love it–it cooks evenly, the handle really does stay cool, and it’s easy to clean, although the food’s never gonna slide out the way it does on the TV commercials).  Somewhere back there is a pot big enough to deep-fry a turkey in, not that I would ever dream of doing such a thing, and a couple of those blue enamel roasting pans.

Looking for the corkscrew, I pulled a cardboard box out of one cupboard and found enough knives to open a butcher shop.  Where did they come from?  Why are they still there?  Along with at least four rice cookers of varying designs, a stack of wooden cutting boards (I only use plastic–much easier to clean), and the ice cube bucket and soda can holder from a refrigerator that died five years ago.

This mess is not entirely my fault (although I have no one else to blame for not throwing it out).  Jack was a good cook, although like many men he saved his efforts for special occasions, when he would used half the contents of the kitchen preparing his feasts, and when my mother came to live with us she brought a lot of kitchen goodies along (which is why I have two sets of silverware and three of dishes).

I really need to shovel out the kitchen cupboards.  And the garage.  And my clothes closets–I’m running low on hangers.  I wonder if I can rent a small dumpster for a couple of months.  Or leave milk and cookies out for the trash men.

Wine bottleBut I did eventually solve the corkscrew problem.  No, I still haven’t found the old one.  I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond for a new one.  Fortunately while I was there enjoying the wall of kitchen and bar goodies (the place is a toy store!), I also bought a wine bottle stopper, because I broke the cork when I used the new corkscrew tonight to open the bottle I bought Friday.  The wine is delicious.




Music and Memory

I enjoy music, but I’m definitely not a musician.  I can’t sing, and Jack used to tell me I even hummed off-key, although I seldom realized I was humming at all.  I guess I fall somewhere between my parents in this.  My dad played the saxophone and clarinet in high school and college (with a band that entertained at, he used to say, “bar mitzvahs and Polish weddings” in the Milwaukee area).  When I was a little girl, he bought and played a Hammond organ (I just looked that up on line, and it was quite a splurge back in the 1950s), and I learned to pick out a few simple pieces on it, but I had no musical talent.

However, unlike my mother, who had a tin ear and never understood any of the jokes in the recordings of P.D.Q. Bach, I do appreciate music, and I’m often surprised at the memories and emotions a song from the past can trigger.  Over the last week or ten days it’s been music from the 1960s, the decade I spent in high school and college.  I’m sure the music of that decade means much the same to me as Big Band Music (which I also like) meant to Jack, who was twenty years my senior.

A few weeks ago, some passing brainwave reminded me of the countless evenings my friends and I spent in the coffeehouses of Coconut Grove, Florida, in the mid-sixties, and I went looking on Amazon for my favorite album from that era, Tear Down the Walls, by Vince Martin and Fred Neil.  Somewhere in the house, I’m sure, I still have my battered copy of the original LP (remember those?  black vinyl discs about a foot across, in cardboard sleeves?), but it’s been many years since I had a functioning turntable (remember those?  I still have no idea why running a needle along a groove in the black plastic produces sound, but then I don’t actually know how a tape cassette or a CD works either.  Might as well call it magic.).

Anyway, I found the album reissued on CD at a ridiculously low price, and ordered it.  When it arrived a week or so ago, I hadn’t heard the songs, or the voices, in many years, but playing the disc  took me right back to those nights long ago, and sent me snooping around the Internet.  Fred Neil, who was probably the better known half of the team back in the day, died some years ago, but Vince Martin is still alive and (I hope) well, about ten years older than I am, which would have put him in his late twenties back when we thought he was–well, we were teenage girls.  You can imagine what we thought.

I’m no musicologist, but I think those years back in the 60s saw the transformation of old traditional folk music through protest songs into what would become folk rock.  Tear Down the Walls has some traditional songs and some protest tracks that seem, today, very rooted in the 60s, but I enjoyed them all.  Somewhere in that collection of moldering LPs, I have Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte Marie and Ian & Sylvia, but Martin & Neil were the ones I saw and heard live, and their album is special.

The 60s theme went on through this past week.  On the anniversary of the March on Washington the other day, I found myself brought nearly to tears by a story on PBS about the history of “We Shall Overcome.”  When I tried to sing along (in the privacy of my car), I choked up.

Today’s memory was happier: another PBS story about the recording of “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas.  I was sure I had a copy of that somewhere, and when I got home I hunted through my CD collection.  Most of my CDs are stored in a tower in a darkish corner behind a closet door, mostly classical albums, some jazz and rock, and I was pretty sure I was looking for a two volume anthology of 1960s girl groups.  Even with a flashlight, I couldn’t find the discs, but there were more places to look: on a bookshelf (mostly classical), in a wooden box that once held computer floppy discs (mostly rock), in a box on the table (mostly jazz), a few near my computer, and another handful in my car (mostly rock anthologies, good road trip music).

I finally found the Girl Groups, in the Dark Tower, under a small stack of holiday music, and I played them through my computer this afternoon.  The music and beat are still fun, but I was mildly appalled by some of the lyrics (mostly variations on “oh, my world revolves around my boy friend”).  I enjoyed the retro-concert, but I never did find “Dancing in the Streets.”  I’d swear it’s here somewhere . . .


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