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Worthless Debris Holds Rich Lode of Priceless Memories

April 26, 1993|JACK SMITH

A friend of my wife, Mary Blanchard, had occasion recently to go through a house that was about to be demolished.

Evidently its owners had not cleaned it out of the impedimenta of years, and Mrs. Blanchard was touched by the things they left behind.

"I found it a very moving experience," she said. "Seeing all these discarded items was like reading a diary of a family."

To list just a few of the many articles she found: a baseball, Old Maid cards, a dog dish, a bamboo fishing pole, a doll's arm, a hubcap, a gin bottle, a dog leash, a hammer head, a blue satin slipper, a broken surfboard, a fake bird of paradise, a baby rattle, an English-Spanish dictionary, a volleyball net, a plastic bag full of valentines, a Christmas wreath.

There were other mementos, similarly unimportant but reminiscent of a family's passage through the years. When the house was torn down, Mrs. Blanchard said, the fireplace, "with all its memories of good times," still stood.

We have lived in our house 43 years, and though we have enlarged it three times, it remains essentially the tract house we bought for $8,425 in 1950. But it so full of our collected junk that I cannot imagine its ever being sold or taken over by our survivors.

It would be simpler, I think, to preserve it intact and institutionalize it as the Smith Family Museum.

Just from the chair I sit in, at my computer, I can see numerous articles whose origins are lost in memory or are no longer of any significance.

Not counting the hundreds of books that line my shelves and will probably never be read or consulted again, I see a life-size plaster-of-Paris Maltese falcon, a metal grackle on a stump, a gilded trophy of a winged woman holding aloft a wreath, a plaque, three owls, a tequila bottle and a Lydia E. Pinkham's medicine bottle, a Whittier College beer mug and a cup commemorating the 60th year of Victoria's reign. There is also a leather-encased cognac bottle whose stopper is the head of Charles de Gaulle.

I see nothing in that lot that would bring in any money at a sale after our departure.

My wife's room produces an even more unlikely inventory: A bouquet of fake roses, four French flags in a cup, a ceramic figure of Napoleon with a music box that plays "Le Marseillaise," a ceramic circus clown and a windup monkey.

Those are only the precious relics to be found in our workrooms, which are hardly more than a year old and haven't had time to acquire the marvels to be found elsewhere in the house.

A cursory glance at the bedrooms reveals four teddy bears, a stuffed cat, a stuffed dinosaur, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, a sculptured owl (I went through an owl phase), a plaque honoring Denise and me as "parents of the year" and a rose-colored glass vase given me by the silent-screen star Claire Windsor.

The real anachronisms, though, are to be found in our closets. My wife is no Imelda Marcos, nor even a Nancy Reagan, but I just made a hasty survey of her walk-in closet, which is forbidden to me, and I counted at least 90 pairs of shoes. I'm not saying she doesn't need 90 pairs of shoes, but still, they are likely to give our inheritors pause.

I have wondered what I would do with her clothing if she were to predecease me, a repugnant and impermissible eventuality. Rather than trying to dispose of her wardrobe piecemeal, it might be handier just to open a little shop, perhaps on Melrose or Rodeo Drive. Of course the styles would go back to the 1950s, since she rarely disposes of anything; but style is cyclical, and I might just do a lively business.

I am chagrined, in checking my two closets, to find that I have no fewer than 28 jackets. One is a loud plaid in hunter's red, black and beige. It has a Vaughn's (At Sather's Gate) label in it, and I must have bought it in the '50s. The last time I wore it was at a cocktail party at The Times, at least 30 years ago. The wife of one of my numerous superiors said, "Where did you leave the horse?"

I am afraid to look in the garage. I rarely see the inside of it, preferring to park my car on the street. However, my wife is constitutionally unable to throw anything away, and the garage must look like the Collier Brothers' house. One of them was finally killed when a ceiling-high stack of newspapers fell over on him. They didn't find his body for three days.

If ever we move, we won't need a moving van--we'll need a Dumpster.

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