The house I grew up in was built in 1913, in that murky era between horses and cars, when a homebuilder had to decide which way the transportation winds were blowing. The man who built the house evidently believed cars were a fad, so he constructed a barn behind the house. My father was always trying to park his too-big car in a too-small stall, like someone struggling into a too-tight pair of pants. Half the back end hung out. While the barn was a bust, storage-wise it was ideal, handily absorbing the flotsam and jetsam of my parents’ lives. Growing up, I spent many a rainy Saturday in that old barn mining for gold.
When my wife and I bought our first home, I began to fill the garage with all manner of useful items over my wife’s objections. We have five bicycles. Their tires are flat, their frames coated with dust, their chains rusted to the sprockets. But it’s nothing a bicycle pump and a squirt of WD-40 can’t fix. I have four bicycle pumps and three cans of WD-40. Supplies aren’t the problem; expectations are. If I fix the bikes, my wife will expect me to repair everything else and sell it all on Craigslist, which I have no intention of doing. There’s no sense raising her hopes only to see them dashed.
I have four lawn chairs I intend to fix just as soon as I find the time to get the webbing to repair them. I bought them 20 years ago at a garage sale. The lady selling them apparently didn’t understand their value. The seats need to be replaced, but it’s nearly impossible to find a good old-fashioned lawn chair anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve tripled in value. With CD interest rates running around 2 percent, I can’t afford not to keep them.
As a general rule, my wife avoids the garage. But every now and then she wanders in, poking around. She invariably sees something she thinks I don’t need and quizzes me about it. Like the time she came upon my watering can.
“Why do we need that?” she asked. “There’s a hole in it.”
“It’s nothing that a little duct tape can’t fix,” I said. I have six rolls, and possibly more, in an old refrigerator.
Her efforts to reform me reach a fever pitch each spring, a season customarily associated with putting things in order. Spring is my least favorite time of year.
In April my wife hints at her intentions. “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were room in the garage to park our cars,” she says. I let her remark pass. It’s only the warm-up.
In early May, always on a Saturday morning, she reminds me the town dump is having a free community day, and that we can throw away anything we want for free.
As if she has to remind me! It’s my favorite day of the year. I drive to the dump and bring back a truckload of perfectly fine stuff other people have discarded. That’s how I got my three-wheeled lawn mower with the blown engine. I’m going to fix it one of these days.
Not long ago, my wife and I were watching television at my parent’s house and a show about hoarders came on. Their houses are stacked from floor to ceiling. A psychiatrist was saying it’s a mental illness, an excuse we trot out when we don’t want to face the truth. Let’s put the blame where it belongs, on architects who 70 years ago stopped designing houses with adequate storage. My parent’s house had a full basement, a full attic, a two-story barn, and three extra rooms with no specific purpose, to be used at the homeowner’s discretion. As a consequence, my parents got along just fine. If the architect who designed our house 22 years ago knew what he was doing, my wife and I wouldn’t have to argue every spring.