When we were on vacation last week, my dad and I cleaned out a closet.
It is a closet in a cabin that was built nearly forty years ago. It is a closet in a cabin that is used for only part of the year. It is a closet full of stuff.
Dad sat on his lawn tractor. It gives him legs that move faster than his walker. I picked pieces off the shelf and carried them to the door. He told me where to put each piece, sometimes asking “do you want it?”, sometimes saying “yes” when I asked if I could have it.
Neither of us said much more than that. Anyone watching would think we were pretty calm. Anyone watching would have been wrong.
As each piece was carried, evaluated, sorted, both of us were remembering.
The aluminum pole with a hoop was a fishing net, the kind that he and I had used decades ago when we fished together. I never realized how much I liked that, how much it shaped me, until years after we stopped.
The tool box, worn plywood, was built to hold the tools that were then used by my dad to help build a camp for boys. When he started, it was a bare field, empty woods. When he moved onto other responsibilities, both field and forest were full of cabins and life. Because it was born a couple years after me, I used to think of Nathaniel (the camp’s name) as my little brother. It is still being used, still shaping lives.
The metal and plastic circle was the dome light from an old car. Dad had kept it to someday put a light in it.
Piece after piece. Story after story. Dream after dream. Memory after memory.
We kept the process factual, but we knew that this was a passing of a baton.
My dad was giving me some projects to pick up, some tools to use. He was giving me permission to toss some of what he had worked on because his projects are not necessarily mine. He was giving us the chance to remember what we have done together while we could do that remembering together. He was reminding me that stuff, after all, is just stuff and that people are what are worth saving.
We took a load of stuff to the dump that afternoon. Much of it is surely gone (though the guy at the dump did his own gleaning.) And that is a good thing.
But I did rescue the tool box. After all, it built my brother. I need it to help me remember to build things that build people.