Any woman who writes humor will eventually be compared to Erma Bombeck. Let me be clear: there was only one Erma Bombeck. Just like there was only one Johnny Carson.
They were expecting Erma and they got stuck with me. My mother placed great significance on the fact that my first newspaper humor column appeared on April 22, 1996, the very day that Erma died. But that column had been written a couple of months before it was printed, so Erma’s talented spirit had nothing to do with it. The column was titled “Spending money on weight loss only makes wallet thinner.” If you’d like to read my first column, click here.
Life just seems to hit me over the head with funny incidents I encounter in my daily life, and it would be foolish not to record them. I do think my Jest for Grins columns improved over the years. Take, for example, one entitled “Plea to roadkill: stay on the road!” that was written 10 years later when I hit a huge owl and unknowingly drove it all over town. Click here if you’d like to read that one.
I hit the owl after I had earlier hit a chicken. You know the old joke about why the chicken crossed the road? My favorite answer to that question is “To show the possum it could be done.”
But the chicken I hit couldn’t teach the possum anything. It stood by the side of the road watching me drive down the highway toward it at 55 miles an hour, then launched into the air right in front of me, failing to gain altitude. I think it had a death wish. You may read “Why, oh why, did that chicken cross the road?” Click here if you wish. Then there was the squirrel I tried, but failed, to straddle. Poor little guy, he went left, then right, then left. I ended that column with the hope that Squirrel Heaven was long on nut trees and short on automobiles.
Come to think of it, I don’t recall Erma ever writing about being a serial killer of critters. If she never hit a critter and left it as roadkill, she was fortunate; if she did hit one, she was smart enough to not write about it. And that’s just one of the differences between Erma and me.
So, dear Erma, there will never be another like you. I hope you rest in peace. And I hope all the critters I unintentionally manslaughtered do as well.
— Marsha Henry Goff
Marsha Henry Goff is rich in family and friends who provide much material for her columns and website postings on www.jestforgrins.com. Fortunately, they believe — as does she — that life, though serious, should not be taken too seriously. She has written nine books, including two compilations of humor columns, six histories and Everything I Know about Medicine, I learned on the Wrong Side of the Stethoscope.
(This piece appeared in Sharon Short’s Literary Life column in the Dayton Daily News on Sept. 10, 2017. Reposted by permission.)
Thanks to a generous gift from comic novelist and writer Anna Lefler, the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is offering a new program, “A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck |Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program.”
Two emerging humor writers will have the opportunity to dive into their comedy writing at the Marriott at the University of Dayton without the interruption of everyday responsibilities, explains Teri Rizvi, founder and director of the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
Writers selected for the inaugural residencies will receive a free registration to the April 5-7, 2018, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop as well as travel, hotel and meal expenses for a two-week experience of a lifetime. The Marriott at the University of Dayton is an in-kind sponsor for the program.
Online applications are due by midnight (EST) Oct. 6, with the winners announced Dec. 4. The program is open to all aspiring humor writers regardless of gender or comedic point of view. The application fee is $25. All entries will be blind-judged by preliminary and finalist judges, all established writers.
“The premise of the program is to give a creative boost to writers who do not yet have the benefit of a milestone achievement such as a traditional book deal, a sold script or the like,” says Teri.
The program is being underwritten by Los Angeles-based author Anna Lefler, author of the humor book, The Chicktionary, and the humorous novel, Preschooled. Anna has taught or presented at the last three Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshops (2012, 2014 and 2016) and will also be at the 2018 workshop.
Anna explains that she worked as a crisis communications consultant before marrying in her 30s and starting a family. Shortly after that, she began pursuing a long-held desire to write. She started by writing a humor blog, connecting with a writer’s group, and learning from feedback, she says. Her first book deal, The Chicktionary, came as a result of her blog.
“I’ve loved Erma Bombeck’s writing since I was in middle school,” Anna says. “I still remember attending my first Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop conference and finding myself seated at the banquet with Mr. Bombeck, his and Erma’s children, and other faculty. I thought, Wow — I grew up in Houston and read about this family sitting up in the tree in my parents’ front yard and laughed my face off at their antics — and now here I am sitting with them in real life! It’s still one of the highlights of my career.”
“I’ve observed how the Bombeck workshop is a magical experience,” Anna says. “I realized how lucky I’ve been to juggle parenting and writing, and know it would be difficult to add a full-time job or other responsibilities to that mix. I also know that when I was able to say ‘I am a writer,’ that changed my life. So I wanted to give back to the workshop and to writers.
“I wanted to provide a way for writers to take a step out of the pressure of their regular lives and live like a full-time writer, without the financial pressure,” Anna adds. “This program is a way to honor Erma and her legacy, to give back and help other writers, and also for a selfish reason — I want more humor out there, humor that doesn’t necessarily hinge on current events or politics, but observational humor, as Erma wrote, that everyone can relate to.”
As part of the residencies, the two winners will write funny essays about their experience living and writing at the Dayton Marriott for the workshop’s blog and meet with University of Dayton classes to discuss the writing journey.
For more information about the writing residency, visit http://www.humorist-in-residence.com.
— Sharon Short
Sharon Short, executive director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, has written the coming-of-age novel My One Square Inch of Alaska (Penguin Plume); two mystery series; and a collection of humorous essays. She is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant, a Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts and Cultural District Literary Artist Fellowship, and was the 2014 John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Sharon is also the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News, an adjunct instructor at Wright State University, and is part of a fiction manuscript consulting group, The Write Sisters.
According to Zezima family legend, which goes all the way back to last week, my wife, Sue, is so proficient at chopping down trees, bushes and other massive flora that she is known far and wide as Paula Bunyan.
I, her faithful companion, am known even farther and wider as Jerry the Dumb Ox.
It was in this capacity, which otherwise is about a six-pack, that I was charged with hauling a mess that I was afraid included Audrey II, the giant plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” to the dump, where I met Teddy the Junkyard Dog.
This shocking example of horticultural horror began when Sue went on a chopping spree and took down several humongous growths whose stems, trunks and branches were roughly equal to those of a California redwood. And she did it not with a chainsaw but a hand saw, which is easier than using a seesaw.
When I saw, I said, “Who’s going to cart all this stuff away?”
Sue pointed the saw at me.
I refrained from making a cutting remark and dutifully dragged the whole thing to the curb in the hope that the Town of Brookhaven, New York, where I live, would take it away.
There it sat for three weeks until I got a letter that was headlined: “Notice before summons.” It went on to say I was in violation of a town ordinance by having litter described as “loose oversized branches” on my property. It also said I would be subject to “a potential fine and a possible misdemeanor charge” if I didn’t take care of it.
I called the Department of Waste Management and spoke with a very nice woman named Maureen.
“Look,” I explained, “I’m a geezer with a bad back and a history of kidney stones. I’m doing my best. Have mercy.”
Maureen was sympathetic and said, “I got one of those notices before I started working here.” Then she added, “You have to cut up the branches and either put them in containers or bundle them. It’s probably easier just to load them into your car and bring them to the landfill. If you’re a town resident, there’s no charge.”
Consoling myself with the thought that the worst things in life are free, I stuffed everything into the back of my SUV, which stands for Sequoia Utility Vehicle, and drove to the landfill.
That’s where I met Teddy, whom Jim Croce would not have described as “meaner than a junkyard dog.”
“He’s more like a teddy bear, which is how he got his name,” said his owner, Nancy Blomberg, adding: “It’s a very exciting day. This is Teddy’s first trip to the dump.”
Teddy, a terrier mix who was born in Puerto Rico, seemed to take it in stride.
“He’s a rescue,” Nancy said. “He’s 6 or 7 years old, I’m not sure and he’s not telling, but I’ve had him for a year and a half.”
Teddy, who was sitting in Nancy’s lap on the passenger side of a 2003 Chevy pickup truck, gave me a high paw through the open window.
“Woof!” I replied.
Just then, Nancy’s friend Micky McLean, who had been hauling stuff out of the back of the truck, came around and introduced herself, saying she is a former Marine.
When I told her I’m a newspaper columnist, Micky said, “I thought so when I saw you interviewing the dog. What’s the matter, the Marines wouldn’t take you?”
“The Marines have standards,” I said. “They’re looking for a few good men, and obviously I’m not one of them.”
Micky, who served honorably from 1977 to 1986 and is now retired, asked if I needed help unloading the branches from the back of my car. When I gratefully accepted her kind offer, she got her trusty cultivator, which is a three-pronged rake, and in the span of about seven seconds cleaned out my trunk.
“Next time, cut down the trees and bushes yourself instead of making your wife do it,” Micky commanded.
I saluted and said, “Yes, ma’am!”
At that, Teddy barked.
“He’s a dog,” Micky said. “He knows something about trees and bushes, too.”
— Jerry Zezima
Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows Best, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
Yesterday, as I was standing in the kitchen, I witnessed my husband creating a tasty looking lunch. He made the most divine looking sandwich! He put it all together and placed it on a plate, grabbed a napkin and walked off.
“So?”, you’re thinking. “Good for him! At least he did it himself!”
All that being true, I cleared my throat….
“Boo? Forget anything?” I asked.
I sweetly said, “Look down.”
“What??” “Ohhhhh, I think that was there before I came in the kitchen.”
What I’m referring to is that in less than ten minutes, he made a sandwich with chips and fixed a tea. But, on the floor beneath the counter was a piece of cellophane from the chip bag, a lettuce leaf, small sliver of ham and tiny breadcrumbs.
Don’t get me started on the counter top!
Is it just me or do we all agree, it’s not that hard to pick up what you drop?
He was oblivious, AKA Clueless.
In our home as in most households across America, we have a “junk drawer.” Occasionally my husband will ask, “Do we have any tape?” (or fill in the blank…batteries? Glue? Rubber Bands?) I’ll say, “Look in the junk drawer,” and I will hear the drawer open and then close. Then I will hear, “Can’t find it!”
Is it just me, or don’t most people know that you must rummage through a junk drawer to find things? It might not be readily available…. It’s a junk drawer, for pete’s sake!
Is he unobservant or just clueless?
Last Christmas my husband surprised me with one more package. He was so proud of himself as I tore the paper off of a small pink box.
“I got you some new undies!”, he cheered.
Is it just me, or do you agree that most mature women don’t shop at Victoria Secrets?
I cautiously opened the box, secretly hoping they weren’t thongs, so I wouldn’t be too embarassed in front of the family. Gratefully, they weren’t thongs, but they were tiny, flimsy and one pair said Juicy on the rear!
“Thank you??”, I stammered.
My husband is always willing to grocery shop for us. He believes he is more efficient and a better bargain hunter. Occasionally, I will ask for something specific, like a can of artichoke hearts. This request will totally baffle him and throw him into a tizzy.
The first time I put canned Artichoke Hearts on the list, he looked at me quizzically and said, “I don’t know if I can do that.” I described exactly which aisle, where they were located on the shelf and what the can looked like. I then said, “Just get the plain ones, not marinaded.”
This situation could go in one of several ways, as you might imagine. An hour and half later, he returned home from HEB flustered and grouchy.
“They didn’t have any,” he said. “I looked everywhere.”
I wish I hadn’t, but I questioned, “Did you ask someone?”
Well….we all know the answer to that! Only one word sums it up,
What about the time I broke into tears after shopping for a swimsuit? He was standing outside the dressing room and said sweetly,
“Just pick one, I thought they all looked good; but if we’re going back to Nordstrom’s can we stop at that candy store on the way?”
The longer I live, the more I realize that sometimes being clueless is a cover up for lack of initiative or dare I say laziness? But, sometimes being clueless is just the way it is, it’s the whole Men are from Mars thing. Sometimes clueless is downright endearing and precious; and sometimes……it’s not. They don’t mean to be unaware or insensitive, bewildered or foolish; they’re just plain…
— Nancy Malcolm
Nancy Malcolm is a true Southern woman, who believes in the Southern way. Like, its never too soon to write a thank you note; everyone should own a deviled egg plate; and good manners often take you where neither education nor money can. And she definitely believes no one ever outgrows the need for a mother’s love. To see more of her writing, go to sittinuglysistahs.wordpress.com and soulspeak2016.wordpress.com.
You see, I am Eva Gabor aka “Lisa Douglas” deep in my soul. Somewhere along the way I traded in my stilettos for muck boots.
I married this highly educated, well-known equine veterinarian who often commands a room when he is speaking. He has authored books and traveled to far-off places consulting on some of the highest-dollar racehorses. He loves fine dining and fine wine. He is shy, yet sophisticated with a deep Southern charm — the truest of Southern gentlemen. Being a Virginian by birth is something that he holds dear to his heart. When we were dating, I was so enamored hearing tales of his childhood here at Green Level Farm, a once operational and booming center of pork, peanut and pine production. We were actually married before I ever visited the family home (farmhouse) that is now nearly 300 years old. I was not disappointed in the least when I came to visit for the first time.
I have always been the curious girl full of imagination. When I found the hidden staircase leading to the attic, the magic carousel in my mind came to life. Suddenly, I was in Anne Franks’ hidden room. Her story is both horrendous and inspirational, and I had suddenly been transported right into it. I was like a little girl in a storybook!
Now we live on the farm full time, and I am faking it as a farm girl. Perhaps, I do not give myself quite enough credit as when it comes to everyday maintenance and repairs, I give my husband a run for his money! A 300-year-old house requires lots of maintenance and repairs and unlike city apartment living, I cannot just call maintenance. I am maintenance!
When I first met my husband, I thought horses had paws. While working at a Sonic in my teens, attempting to make conversation with a customer, I told him what pretty horses he had in his horse trailer. He replied “well, thank you, darlin’ but them are cows!” And, there was a time in my life when someone called me over to a carton of eggs with the utmost excitement because of a found “hen egg” to which I inquired, “Well, how do you know?” Yep. This farm thing was going to be a challenge.
First, let’s begin with dialect and accent. I encounter other human beings (I think), yet they speak a language very different than my own. I have checked out Rosetta Stone and cannot seem to locate Virginian. I have begun to compile a list of questionable words, and, in due time, I am determined I will figure them out. They are the loveliest people, though. Another funny thing is that my husband acquires the exact same accent when he speaks to one of them. Suddenly we have PEE CANS and AKINS everywhere! I see and HEAR the transformation right before me.
Back in the day (before farm living), a drive-up window was where I pulled up to get my food after placing an order at the intercom. It was glorious. No dishes!
Now, the only window where anyone gets food is the one on my backdoor where the rooster and his harem of hens knock and wait for me to hand out pieces of bread. Oh, how I miss the days of fast food opposed to a kitchen full of ingredients. I am a self-declared great cook. Just call me Betty Crocker. The thing is, I just don’t wanna! I am a closet Taco Bell addict and the nearest is about 40 minutes away. I could more easily have possum stew that I can have Taco Bell.
I can order a package to be delivered to my house (that is not how they say it here btw!), but the post office does not think I mind just picking it up there as we are all friendly and such. It is okay. The lady at the desk is kind and when there is a full moon, she has allergies. How would I know that otherwise?
On the occasion that I happen to get a Fed Ex package, my dog Mojo normally gets a handwritten note along with three Milk Bones from our delivery guy. Mojo is convinced that just doesn’t happen in town!
The last time my husband travelled out of town for work we had substantial rainfall and I ended up with a frog crawling up the drain of my bathtub. The only thing that this city girl wants in her bathtub is bubble bath and wine!
I have a pair of muck boots by the back door and often wear them with my pajamas out to the barn. I may have even gone into “town” that way once or twice. I find myself crawling under bushes and looking under things for eggs before adding them to the grocery list.
Internet and cable are now luxuries that happen only in the best of weather conditions. My cell phone does not ring often, and I am not sure if that is because I have no service or no friends.
OMG! Trash. There is no trash service. I have to haul that stuff in my car to a DUMP! They look at me a little bit funny when I do that in heels, btw.
We do not go to a local church but rather an ONLINE CHURCH out of Georgia. Well, I declare, “Is that on that there internet or something?” Imagine the confused looks I get when I tell them that I work remotely — yep on that there computer thing, ordering DRUGS! I once asked a local lady where she goes to church and she replied, “Oh, it’s real traditional. It’s not for everyone.” (I felt like I was in Harper Valley PTA.)
Apparently roads and streets are not at all the same. My purse became a pocketbook and collards are a thing. Beagles (the Snoopy dogs) are for hunting not petting. FOR REAL!
People around here are quick to offer to share their deer meat and helpful hints on how to cook it. Actually, if you cook anything, as long as you cook it in Zesty Italian dressing, it is sure to be lip smackin’ good. Do not ask to taste their bear meat, though. That is just “good eatin’” and no one is quite that neighborly.
If I were getting a report for farm life so far, I am guessing it would say “needs improvement!” I may not be quite as convincing at faking this farm thing as Meg Ryan was faking IT in the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” but I am hoping for best supporting actress or at least honorable mention.
The thing is it really is a storybook life full of charm, but it goes much deeper than the surface that I fell in love with. The farm life is rather easy going, laid back and quite forgiving. For instance, 35 mph means just that. No one gets in a hurry as there is no place to get in a hurry to go to except The Virginia Diner on buffet days/
I am sure that my suburbanite self is as much of an oddity to the local town folk as they are to me. I am admittedly rather reclusive. If I did not know me, I would be making up all kinds of stories about the city girl writer that lives on Green Level Farm, but then again, I would not understand what they had to say anyway.
— Cynthia Bain
Cynthia Bain is a blogger and author who writes motivational, inspiring and sometimes humorous stories inspired by life as she knows it — never ordinary, sometimes crazy and always fabulous. She lives in Wakefield, Virginia with her husband and two “fur-kids” (Chloe, the Yorkie princess, and Mojo, the frequently misunderstood Jack Russell Terrier), where they are currently in the process of reviving a 300-year-old farmhouse.
It’s an inner ear brain tumor, usually benign, that I had successfully removed more than 30 years ago. “Successful” is a relative term here because it was necessary to sever my auditory, facial and balance nerves on that side of my face. It was a long recovery, I am deaf in that ear, and I’ll never be a ballet dancer, but my facial nerve was repaired and I am fine.
When Acoustic Neuroma Friends with almost 2,000 members popped up, I was curious and asked for permission to join. The rules were strict, with the emphasis on coping suggestions and not medical advice. Thirty years ago, the only choices were surgery or “wait and see” since these tumors are slow growing. However, mine was impinging on my brain stem, so out it went. Now there are several choices, and I am grateful I wasn’t given them, since decision making is not my forte.
After my introductory post, I had this niggling feeling that I could help in a way that I learned from the best at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop — turning tragedy into humor, a la Judy Carter, Elaine Ambrose and my beloved Gina Barreca. I explained the concept as simply as I could and then wrote my first funny anecdote — that I can sleep on my good ear when my husband snores — and asked them to share theirs. I had no idea the concept would be so welcomed. The comments to my post were downright hilarious — and clever!
Some use the surgery as silly but an authentic excuse. When an Army private was asked why she hadn’t locked a gate, she quipped, “I just had brain surgery. What’s your excuse?” Or when another’s husband gave her a look because she slurped her spaghetti, she said,”I have facial paralysis. What’s your excuse?”
We lose our balance often and one woman just grins and says, “Sorry, guess I’ve had too many.” The looks on her fellow grocery shoppers’ faces are priceless.
Or these quips: “Don’t be nervous, it’s all in your head” or “Using humor is a no-brainer” or my favorite, “Tumor Humor.”
Another term for acoustic neuroma is Schwannoma, so one clever patient made a song video called “My Schwannoma” to the weird ’70s ballad, “My Sharonna!” Another had the No Sound logo tattooed behind his deaf ear.
My initial post garnered more responses than I could have imagined so I continued to try to make these fellow warriors grin. I followed that post with one about the problems with background noise in restaurants or cocktail parties. We find ourselves nodding during conversations we can’t hear and fearing that we’re agreeing to something outrageous or chairing yet another fundraiser. Many of us seat our spouses to our bad ear, because they know to tap us for attention…or so we can tune them out, as one responded.
I told the story of my 20th high school reunion, my first anxiety-causing occasion after my surgery, where no one seemed to notice my crooked smile and my high school boyfriend said something I never heard while slow dancing. That prompted a possible Country and Western song title, “Please Don’t Whisper Sweet Nothings in My Bad Ear.”
A plethora of new acronyms have popped up that are that are puzzling to me. Like SSD (Single Side Deaf) or W&W (Watch and Wait) to go along with the various choices for dealing with these ANs — another acronym that seems to make this tumor seem less threatening. So, in a new post, I came up with some of my originals, like INTW (I Need Training Wheels) or WMGGS (Why My Golf Game Sucks), which prompted more wonderful silliness from my new friends with my favorite being IRN2W (I Run Into Walls).
If humor can help allay the anxiety of the surgery or waiting to see how the tumor grows, I will use the power of my Erma tribe to put smiles on these warriors’ faces. So, I hope they grin every time they stumble, smile when they turn their good ear to conversation, laugh at their unique crooked smiles and never believe their dreams have ended, except maybe that Olympic gymnast gold medal or Tour de France yellow jersey.
Thank you, Elaine, Judy, Gina and all the humor writers who inspire us at Erma.
— Yvonne Ransel
Yvonne Ransel is a writer of essays — some humorous, some poignant — who is inspired by life’s crazy, everyday events. She was a librarian, then a bar owner, now a librarian again. She survived the ’60s and the millenium and the years in between as mother, wife and now grandmother of six.
I’m not a coupon clipper. Never have been. But I admire people who do. I saw a woman at the grocery store the other day carrying a three-ring binder full of coupons. No telling how much money she saved.
I will use a coupon if it’s actually attached to the product. I’ve done that at least once. It happened a couple of weeks ago when I picked up a box of Sweet ‘N Low. There was a coupon attached to it that read, “Save 50-Cents Now!” The cashier scanned it, and it showed up on my receipt. Cool, I remember thinking. And besides saving 50-cents, a banner on the box read, “Bonus Pack! 120 packets for the price of 100.” At two-packets per cup, that’s enough artificial sweetener for 60 cups of coffee.
I’ve been told that this stuff isn’t good for you. But I’ve used it for so many years I’d be afraid to stop; my body could go into shock!
Because of bar codes, checking out is pretty foolproof these days… and easy. So easy that some stores have self-checkout aisles, where you just scan your own stuff. For some reason, though, all the machines have female voices telling you what to do. That’s why I don’t use them.
Women have been telling me what to do all my life; my mother, my big sister, most of my teachers, and my wives (and their mothers). So the last thing I need is a female computer voice telling me to weigh my bananas.
Then there’s the female “navigator” on my GPS telling me where to turn. So far, though, she doesn’t tell me where to park. But I’m sure that “find-a-parking-place” technology is right around the corner. In the meantime, my wife can tell me where to park. And if I forget where I parked, we have an app on our phones that will locate the car. And it works well. I tried it this morning and found the car exactly where I parked it last night; in the garage.
So, tonight I can program the restaurant location into its GPS and head to dinner. But it won’t be to the restaurant that sent me a coupon last week.
The deal: “Surf & Turf Dinner” for Two: 6 oz. filet mignon, served with 8 oz lobster tail – $75.00. Tax and gratuity not included. Beverages not included. Expires 9/30/17. Wow, that’s $37.50 apiece. Wonder what the price will be after 9/30/17?
By comparison, I can get 10 filet mignons and 10 lobster tails from Amazon for a little over $200 with free shipping. All I have to do is tell Alexa and the order is placed. Then she can tell me who won the Dodgers game last night. And then tell me a joke. She hangs onto every word I say, without interrupting. And would never tell me where to park.
Where has she been all my life? (sigh…)
– Raymond Reid
Raymond Reid is a national-award winning humor columnist from Kernersville, NC. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
I straightened up in the bathroom the other day and placed a clean throw rug in front of the sink. When my wife Carol came home that evening, she saw the rug and told me: “I don’t want that on the floor.” My response: “Where else would it go?”
I knew she meant she didn’t want that particular rug on display, but I have so few opportunities to zing her that I had to jump on the non-sequitur. More importantly — why, then, were we holding onto something we no longer had any use for?
We recently bought another storage shed to join the one we already have in the yard; the new one serves as a place for all the furniture we continue to keep that does not fit into our current home. When we moved to our lovely but modest lake house in Maine, instead of downsizing our possessions, we brought everything with us and just gerrymandered the boundaries within which they are legally permitted to reside.
When company comes, we offer a comfortable guest room with a few tastefully arranged family heirlooms on display. However, we’re able to do that only by relocating an insane amount of stuff into our bedroom for the duration of their stay — several barrels’ worth of family photographs and craft supplies, stacks of books and magazines, assorted folding chairs, two sewing machines and my exercise bicycle (which is actually a full-sized bike with the rear wheel sitting on a treadmill-like stand so I can peddle furiously without actually going anywhere, much like when I ride the bike outside). We can’t show overnight visitors the master bedroom on the house tour since we have to put a shoulder to our door to force it open.
Once in a great while when we are house cleaning (and by this, I mean that we house clean only once in a great while), Carol will look at me and say, “I’m in a mood to get rid of things.” This is a rare event, like a visit from Halley’s Comet, or a truthful statement from a member of the Trump administration.
We immediately jump into action once those words leave her lips; we fill box after box with no-longer-worn clothing, no-longer-used kitchen appliances, no-longer-functioning electronic devices and other redundant possessions, and rush them to Goodwill before regret has time to take hold. We unload so much during these trips that the IRS dispatches an agent to supervise the donations. Once everything is accounted for, he hands us a completed Form 8283 (“Noncash Charitable Contributions”), and to express our thanks we offer a bottle of wine (valued at $20 or less, as per federal guidelines), throwing in a few sticker books if the agent happens to mention there are small children at home.
Some people find it hard to give up things they rarely (if ever) use because of emotional connections to those items. That extra set of china that’s sitting in a box up in the attic? It belonged to your grandparents. That collection of Instamatic cameras, which they don’t make film for anymore? You’ve held on to them since adolescence, when your life’s ambition was to become a photographer for National Geographic. The dress you wore to your senior prom? That’s the night you lost your… contact lenses.
These keepsakes remind you of connections to family, or special events, or a time when your vision of the future excited you more than it might right now. I tend to be less sentimental than my wife, so it often falls on me in these moments to remain objective and ask that perfectly rational question: “Why do you want to hold onto something you no longer have any use for?”
Lately, I notice Carol staring at me for a long, long time before answering.
— John Branning
This essay is adapted from John Branning’s latest book, Keys To The Truculent Me – And Other Things That Drive Me Crazy. He is a well-meaning but woefully inadequate husband and father. John blogs at JohnBranning.com.