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Dad and son end an era

I’m missing summer, the heat of the days I should be acclimating to, the lightning bugs, the sounds of the night.

At the moment, I’m laid up. My foot’s in a sling. I walk maybe a mile in the early evening with the dogs, but that’s halting and hobbled. I get home and my foot’s pounding. I berate myself for being such a boob and think of the opportunities—the bike rides, the smell of the neighborhood when the wind stills after sunset, the wonderful comfort of the dark.

Ten days ago, or so, on a Thursday, Nick and I went into the basement. It was the very definition of entropy. Once-shelved items spilled across the floor. A decade of living lay about like autumn leaves, slowly moldering and decaying. Years of projects completed and attempted created disheveled piles of detritus that only the most slovenly of human beings could be proud of.

The basement’s haunted me for years. It’s stung me awake in the night. I’ve felt its weight, the things that a house accumulates in drips through the front door and that come to rest on the bare concrete downstairs. Things we wanted to forget about stitched memory and turned into scenes in dreams and nightmares.

Nick had a week off school before he started his summer job. I had a semester break. No longer could inertia or the lack of will hold us back from our important task. We had no justification for inaction. We gathered ourselves up and put our minds to it. We stood there in the middle of the chaos and decided, well, this is it.

First, I told Nick that if we hadn’t touched it in the last six months and wouldn’t for another, it was going

out the door. Saturday, June 2, was neighborhood Dumpster Day, that glorious time when the innards of other people’s houses comes to full view before being trucked off to the city dump. Usually, we help people unload their goods into 10-meter dumpsters with one side open, so you can load them from the back. This time, I said, other people were going to help us.

We set to work. I gathered empty boxes of all sizes, from ones that could hold birds’ eggs to those that once contained chairs. Nick dutifully broke the boxes down into flat layers of cardboard and filed them neatly in the biggest box we could find. Meanwhile, we filled a 35-gallon trash bag with packing peanuts and plastic filler and bubble wrap. Anything we could not recycle—old toys, trash, bits and corners of wood—joined the packing in the trash bags. Paper stuffing joined the boxes in the big box.

We took care of half of what we came down to do just in filing the boxes away. Then came the rest. We swept and dusted, filling another large trash bag.

We repaired to the large cabinets whose guts splayed out across the concrete. We rearranged and repacked the camping and canoeing equipment that lay on the floor where we left it after coming home from our periodic outings. Once all that was back on the shelves with the family luggage, cooler, and bait buckets, we threw out all of what was left.

Long-forgotten documents, tax records, and other officialdom joined the paper recycling pile. If it was older than a couple of years, we tossed it, IRS be damned. We reshelved all the other stuff we might want to keep, such as books, maps, and CDs. Otherwise, we were ruthless.

While we curried at this work, we also took an inventory of all the larger items we would take to the dumpster. I had arranged for my friend Stan to use his work truck to help us.

The whole endeavor, from beginning to end, took us about two hours. I was astounded and somewhat irritated. I’d lost all that sleep over the years and experienced all those nightmares dreading what I thought might take us days to make right. We’d wrapped up a decade or more of worry in so short a time that there was nothing to do for the rest of the day but nap and read. Anticlimactic. I was disappointed at the same time my heart took wing. In just two days, we could reclaim at least 900 square feet of the basement, over half the floor space, if not more.

Saturday arrived and I got up in enough time to have a savory cup of tea before Stan arrived. When he did, we huffed and puffed and took the basement upstairs. A futon and its stand came first, then the trash bags, deck furniture pads, and other bulky items. We filled Stan’s large truck to overflowing. As we emptied the truck into the dumpster just a few blocks away, I could feel the weight lifting. Nothing gives so much satisfaction as watching the past disappear into the maw of a dumpster on its way to the municipal landfill.

On our second run to the dumpster, Nick and I loaded into Stan’s truck two concrete table tops I’d made for a neighborhood project that fell through. They weighed about 160 pounds, the equivalent of two bags of concrete. They’d been stinking up a corner of the basement since February 2006. I thought of those table tops every time the basement pricked my consciousness. I can’t tell you how I fret over them.

We heaved one onto the pile in the dumpster. It looked secure and study. But when we threw in the second, the first squirted out from underneath and landed on its edge right in the middle of my left foot. It took two men to lift it off. I hopped around like a cartoon character with one foot in my hands.

Soon, the shock of the blow abated, and I worked the rest of the day on a gimpy foot. It didn’t really start to hurt until Stan and I spent an hour in the truck waiting in a line at the municipal mulch pile, where we were taking Stan’s fence trimmings—branches, trees, etc. It was then that it had the chance to swell. I sat in Stan’s living room for an hour with a bag of frozen Brussel’s sprouts wrapped around my foot.

Virginia and I looked at it later that night. The foot had really swollen up, to the point where my foot looked like a clown foot. We determined, however, that the foot was only squished, nothing broken. Despite my self-diagnosis, I went to the ER the next day on Virginia’s insistence. An X-ray showed nothing was broken. But the doctor said it would be two weeks before I’d be up and around again.

Two weeks in summer! That’s like a lifetime. I have been stuck in the house, except for going to the college to teach classes. When I walk, I hobble.

This is going to set me back. I depend on the nightly dog walk of three to four miles for my exercise. I had wanted to go backpacking with Nick in June, but that looks like a distant dream. I won’t be acclimated to the heat. I will be out of shape for the hike. Meanwhile, I’m missing all those summer things I mentioned before.

Here’s the deal: Even as we were loading up the concrete table tops, I knew I was going to get bitten. But one epoch does not turn to another without pain. It’s a right of passage. I reclaimed my space and began a new life. Every change takes with it a reminder of the past. This squished and swollen foot is my reminder that there was once a darker time in life.

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