Saturday Singles No. 30 & 31

Originally posted September 15, 2007

People – well, most people, I think – tend to accumulate stuff. Some do so more than others, I guess.

I’m a packrat. To a little lesser extent, so is the Texas Gal. As I mentioned a little more than a week ago, one of the projects we had in mind for her week off was to clear our closets and the garage of things that we no longer need. Well, we got a good start on it, anyway. The closets in the apartment are a little less full and a whole lot neater than they were at the beginning of that week.

There are still a few boxes in the large bedroom closet that we look at, wondering, “What the heck is in those: videotapes or cookbooks? Or maybe more photo albums?” But at least they’re stacked neatly, not shoved into the closet higgledy-piggledy.

The garage is still to be finished. We spent last Saturday morning pulling boxes down from the pile on the back wall and sorting through them. Whatever we found, it went into one of three piles, depending on its destination: Back into a box, off to the Goodwill store or across the parking lot to the dumpster. We got about halfway done last week and the Goodwill and dumpster piles were about equal, and it seemed as if we were keeping about the same amount as was leaving the garage. Not bad.

And today, pretty much as soon as I post this, we’re heading out to the garage to finish. This week’s work on the back wall should go more rapidly, as we know pretty much what’s in the boxes that are left: A couple of them are Christmas decorations; there are several boxes filled with my tabletop baseball league notebooks; at the bottom of the pile reside a couple of toolboxes filled with things that came from my father’s workbench; and four or five of the boxes are filled with my parents’ collection of National Geographic magazine, from the 1950s up into the 1990s, I would guess.

I imagine that such a collection is extraordinarily common, certainly among the parents of our generation. When I was a kid, when the next month’s National Geographic came, the preceding month’s edition went onto the shelf, next to the others. And when the shelf got full, the oldest year’s worth on the shelf was boxed and stored. The magazines were just too good – doorways to distant places and fascinating information, with some of the best photography one could find anywhere – to just throw them out! So year after year, the magazines went onto the shelf and from the shelf into the box, until the first box was joined by a second, then a third and on and on.

So what to do with them, with maybe six boxes of the magazines, dating back to 1950 or so? (I think the first few years’ worth were salvaged by my father from the library at what was then St. Cloud Teachers College during the early years of his employment there; following those 1950s magazines, there is a gap of about ten years, and then the collection picks up again in the mid-1960s, when I recall my father beginning a subscription for my sister and me.) There is no market to sell them: They are too readily available. The public library has no need of them. (I checked about four years ago, when we were cleaning out Mom and Dad’s place after he died.) They are too old to be of any real use for an assisted living facility or a veterans’ home, some place that otherwise might welcome new reading material.

We could, I suppose, just verify what’s in the boxes and put them back into the stack against the wall, deferring a sad decision for another time. I don’t think we’ll do that, though. But I keep thinking about how much I learned from those magazines; they took me places I’d never been and taught me things about our world and how we fit into it. The prospect of putting them into the pile for the dumpster saddens me.

One of the boxes from Mom and Dad’s house that I went through about four years ago was filled with my schoolwork from over the years: art projects, book reports, tests and classroom exercises dating from kindergarten through senior year. Even as I marveled at my parents’ desire to save so much of my life, I determined that I needed to keep very little of it. I wasn’t nearly as unhappy about throwing away, say, my fifth-grade report on cats as I am about the likely fate of the National Geographic magazines.

I imagine that if we had the prospect of grandchildren who would someday page through those magazines, our decision might be different. But there will be no grandchildren to do that. So I know where those National Geographic magazines will go.

As a result, I have two Saturday singles today. The first is “Midnight in Moscow” by Bert Kaempfert, in honor of all the places that those magazines took me, a few of which I was lucky enough to see in person but most of which I will only ever see vicariously through the pages of those yellow-bound volumes. It comes from Kaempfert’s 1965 album, The Magic Music of Far Away Places. The second single, which should need no explanation, is “Junk” from Paul McCartney’s 1970 solo album, McCartney.

Bert Kaempfert – “Midnight in Moscow” [1965]

Paul McCartney – “Junk” [1970]

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