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Spaced out.


We have a coat closet just off thepatio door. By actual count, it contains 17 coats and 15-1/2 coat hangers. One of the plastic hangers has lost a shoulder on the right side--or the left side, depending on which way you hook it over the rod. Fifteen of the coats belong to my dear wife; two are mine.

I have a spring-fall coat and a wintercoat. My winter coat is eight years old. The buttons on my spring-fall coat are made of mica, the forerunner of plastic. The last time I wore it, an elderly gentleman said he hadn't seen buttons like that in 30 years. It would probably take a carbon-14 test to determine the age of the thing. Two of Lois' coats still carry the price tags.

Her coats occupy the 15 wholehangers. By running one sleeve of my spring-fall coat over the shoulder of the half hanger and wrapping the other sleeve around the hook, the coat will stay up for, oh, sometimes as long as five minutes. My winter coat I hang over the handle of the vacuum cleaner. This keeps most of it off the floor but leaves a hummock in the back that has people on the street looking at me as if they think my spinal column might have slipped its mooring and punched through my skin.

At spring housecleaning time,which came late this year, Lois said, "We've just got to get rid of some of these coats]"

I, in my naivete, replied, "I'M allfor that."

She Immediately plunged in and,after a morning of pawing and sorting and mumbling, took my spring-fall coat to the rummage sale at the Freedom fire hall.

If the problem were confined to thecoat closet, I wouldn't bring it up. But pick any area in the house. . . . Go ahead, pick an area--I'll wait. . . .

Our clothes closets? Good choice.

Here, I have good news and badnews. The good news is, we have separate closets. The bad news--they connect. From our original starting point of 50-50, her clothes now extend to a full three-quarters of the space; my remnants are scrunched up at the far end of what was once my half. President Reagan would have to take but one look at the scene to declare it a disaster area eligible for a low-interest loan (which we could use).

The financial outlay to support thehabit of this clothesaholic I married is one thing. Another is the risk it presents to life, limb, and the top of the head. Open a closet door, and whammo]--clothes she hasn't worn since her baby fat returned spring out with a great sign of relief. I barely emerge from this deluge before a stack of folding charis begins unfolding on my shins. And as I bend over and try to figure out how to refold the blasted things, I find my head is invariably lined up just right to stop her overloaded shoetree from crashing to the floor.

You could as well have picked anyarea in the house--the problem is the same. My dear wife, you see, is a collector of--well, to be fair, let's call it junk. You've probably heard of Ringwald's Law of Household Geometry: "Any horizontal surface is soon piled up." I don't know where Ringwald did his research, but any one of our rooms would have served as an ideal site. I propose (if Ringwald wouldn't mind) an amendment to his law: "Surfaces pile up in direct proportion to the number of flea markets, garage sales, and farm auctions within a 50-mile radius."

I have done my best to slow thistransfer of someone else' castoffs to our own collection point: For a recent farm auction I made her promise she would keep her hands in her pockets during the bidding. She said she would only watch. So I put the wires back on the spark plugs and drove 27 miles over back roads in the rain so my little spectator could see the first heirloom go up for sale.

To her credit, she kept her wordabout keeping her hands in her pockets. She got the winning bid--on the croquet set with five balls and one mallet, the box of textbooks all in Frecnh, the 2 'x5' mirror molting its quicksilver, and the framed photo of someone named George waving from a fire tower on Big Bear Mountain on April 14, 1927--by winking at the auctioneer. And after I positioned myself in front of her, she added a dilapidated wren condo, a carton of udder salve she mistook for neutral shoe polish, and a cracked bust of Millard Fillmore--by throwing her leg in the air.

Not only do I have to load and unloadthis crud and usually add another rip to the car's upholstery, but hours later I find it usurping the space normally researved for essentials. One incident comes to mind--perhaps because it occurred about an hour ago. In the orchard counting my crop of four Bartlett pears, I noticed that a convention of bagworms had convened on an upper limb. Dashing into the house, I grabbed the blowtorch from the top of the refrigerator and went out to adjourn the convention. Ten minutes later, I came back to find Millard Fillmore in the vacated place looking smugly down at me.

I know what you girls are thinking:"Why don't you store your big, fat blowtorch out in the shed where it belongs?" That shows how little you know about conditions in the shed, built only three years ago to shelter those items too awkward to maneuver through the kitchen door. I refer to such items as the Rototiller, the snow blower, some garden tools, my riding mower, her self-propelled mowers--stuff like that. Today, the shed looks like an uncataloged annex to the Smithsonian.

Take just her self-propelleds...please. WhileI've been nursing one riding mower for the past six years, she has gone through three self-propelleds. And they lie in wait in various stages of disrepair to break the leg of anyone trying to get his riding mower through the maze.

One of these ju nkers self-propelleditself over a stump in the barnyand after it got away from her coming downhill. The next one she banked off the security-light pole. While she checked for broken fingernails, the contraption proceeded to mow the stones down one track of the driveway. Although she still operates the third mower, a toothless sheep could gum the grass about as well, due to close encounters with the rock gardens (see below).

Throw the other two wrecks away? Shewon't hear of it. For me to have access to my mower, snow blower, etc., nothing would be left in the way but the six bales of straw she is going to mulch her strawberry patch with, already in the seed-catalog stage; a rubber tree that died in her arms one night after serving as a nail-sharpening post for the cat, but that she still fertilizes with what must be--judging from the cost--aardvark droppings; and the sofa, retired four years ago, whose availability has spread to every mice colony in sweet Owen County.

By comparison getting to mygarden tools is a breeze. All I have to do is walk the length of the sofa, step from one junk mower to the next, then climb to the top of the six bales of straw. From this vantage point I can usually spot the tool I'm after just inside the door, where she leaves everything instead of putting it on its proper wall bracket.

That's another thing. . . but it'llhave to wait.

Three years ago Lois began drumminginto my ears that our marriage would stand a better chance of survival if I would have the front porch enclosed.

No sooner said than done--give ortake a year or two. I finally gave in for two reasons. Not only would giving in save wear and tear on my eardrums, but her plans called for 12 windows with a foot-wide ledge to run the full length beneath. In my innocence, I figured that after a hard day of nouning and verbing the ledge would be ideal for sitting with my feet propped up as I looked out over the valley and the lights of Freedom began to illumine the evening sky. The ledge would also be just the place for hedge trimmers, mole traps, Weed Eaters, pruning shears, birdseed, and other staples I use around the house. (Around the house, not in the house.)

Feel free to stop by anytime andtake a look. If you can find a peephole big enough to spot a romantic firefly in the vening sky, you're doing better than I am. As for the ledge, the entire length is crammed with odds and ends, the odds running about 10 to 1 over the ends. Wherever this stuff doesn't snuff out the view, my wife has strategically placed macrame flora (some of which, if you'll forgive me, reaches clear to the floor-a).

After writing off this project as abad investment, I approached Lois one morning in a suppliant position (she didn't know it was the result of having dug out an elm-tree stump the day before) and said, "If you don't mind [an approach I highly recommend], I'd like to put up a couple of shelves in the kitchen."

"Great idea]" she responded, withan enthusiasm I misinterpreted completely. Otherwise I wouldn't have spent seven long evenings, to say nothing of blood, sweat, and assorted blisters, measuring, sawing, remeasuring, resawing, and installing two shelves that still came two inches short of filling the space between wall and cupboards.

What had kept my bloodflowing, my sweat dripping, and my blisters accumulating was the happy thought of no more walking 50 feet through the rain to get the pipe wrench from the shed after using a wire coat hanger (from one of her coats) to unplug the sink. The shelves would also hold the plastic bucket I always put under the pipe connection after using the wrench. I would keep the drill there for drilling a hole in the floor under the sink should she get tired of mopping up after the bucket overflows.

On the shelves I wouldkeep Brutus' Frisbee. . .and the little red lantern I bought at Morgan's auction that I haven't yet found a globe for. . .and the ball of binder twine I use to bind my Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report magazines.

And it worked out just the way I'dplanned--from Saturday afternoon clear through Monday. Tuesday night I cam home to find my treasures blocking the door to the shed.

"How come my treasures from theshelves are blocking the door to the sheshed?" I demanded, leaving my coat on in case I had to drive back to Spencer for dinner.

"Because those awful things belongout there," she replied. "I left the stuff out because I thought you'd want to arrange it yourself. Kitchen shelves are for kitchen items."

Still in my coat--a wise decision--Iwent in to check the kitchen items now occupying the shelves. I found an electric can opener lying on its back ("It doesn't work any more standing up"), a cup rack designed to save space resting on a 14-inch ceramic plate, and a 12-cup coffee urn last used on Thanksgiving Day 1979. The rest of that shelf was taken up by pots of dangling ivy and the all-important canister set. One canister contained a single marshmallow, and another housed the manual for the sewing machine we gave to our daughter Shari three years ago.

Shelf No. 2, from what little Icould see of shelf No. 2 through the ivy hanging from shelf No. 1, contained the miniature rke and shovel I had given her as a peace offering the time I watered the flowers in her rock garden with water left over from a concrete-patiching job on the patio. (I reme mber we had quite a difference of opinion over whether cemented flowers were any worse than those plastic jobs she usually finds in the bottom of the boxes she gets for a 50[ bid at auctions.) I also spotted the walkie-talkie set I gave her and gave up on because you-know-who talkied more than she walkied.

Other kitchen i tems included threebottles of cat mange cure, a bottle of cat ear-mite medicine, box of dry cat food, and three cans of cat food her finicky cat wouldn't touch when she lived here, which was three months ago.

"She could come back at anytime," Lois explained, in answer to my raised eyebrow.

"So could Amelia Earhart," Ipointed out. I ate dinner at the OV Restaurant in Spencer.

As mentioned, we have what iscalled a root cellar. It is called a root cellar because there a gardener is supposed to store his crop of roots--carrots, peanuts, rutabagas, onions, stuff like that--for the winter. If it were meant to be a place to store boxes of flea market coats that can't be squeezed into the closet, it would have been called a coat cellar, I keep pointing out. And my roots wouldn't have to be stored under the bed, where they begin to sprout two weeks later, I also mention.

Our yard is the last straw. And I domean straw. Where other people have grass, we have a no man's land of mole tunnels, mole high-rises, and dog excavations made trying to dig them out. This is the law of nature. But where grass does somehow manage to grow, we immediately have rock gardens--well named, I might add. In other yards flowers relieve the monotony of these slag heaps. Not here. If it weren't for the ability of weeds to push up through the billiard-ball clay that passes for top-soil on our hilltop estate, all my dear wife's landscaping would come to naught.

Speaking of which: Sixyears ago the reforestation people of our Hoosier state advertised their baby pine seedlings for sale, not by a reasonable dozen, or even a halfway-sensible 25, but by a ridiculous 100. And guess who jumped on the offer to the tune of 200? Right.

To her astonishment, they survived. Today,those babies are 20 feet high and interlaced. They make it necessary for me to climb the fence and walk through Abrell's pasture to get from the house to the garden. Only an act of God will keep the limbs from entering our house in another two years. The roots have already strangled our kitchen drain. As for any chance to daylight coming through the living-room picture window that cost $166 to install, forget it. I might as well have painted the thing black in one swell foop.

I'd better not go on. It's not goodfor a man of my years to get worked up to the point that his pulse can be picked up on the Richter scale.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:junk in the home
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1986
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