My wife opened the door a crack, and I proceeded to bust it off its hinges.
I knew she was serious about being especially enthusiastic in our approach to Spring Clean-Up Week this year. Several times in recent weeks, she'd mentioned how we were going to spend the Saturday before the big week giving our house, garage and shed a thorough once-over.
Then, on the eve of our assault on accumulated clutter and assorted unnecessary things, she opened the door: "Are you ready for the spring purge tomorrow?" she asked.
So this wasn’t going to be just cleaning, I told myself, it was purging.
She got started first, since I can't function until I have read my morning newspapers. But I could hear her below me, in the basement "workshop," and it sounded like big things were being moved around.
It's not much of a workshop, really. It's home to the cats' food dishes and their litter boxes, and my uninspiring collection of tools. I did buy a vise years ago, but its primary function over the years has been to properly secure hockey sticks for cutting to the proper lengths for two growing boys.
Soon I ventured to the basement and saw things moved all over the place amid a general sense of disarray - but I wasn't convinced she was ready to go extreme. I motioned to the large shelving unit on one side of the workshop and said, "What about this?" She said she didn't know what I wanted to do with "all that," so what I proceeded to do was attack it with tremendous vigor. An hour or so later, I almost convinced myself I could hear the shelves giggling over their suddenly lightened load.
Onto the backyard shed...
It's amazing how a winter's worth of empty 50-pound bags of sunflower seed for the birds can so conveniently serve as bags full of shed-junk to haul to the curbside. It's possible I whistled random tunes as I stuffed those bags to the brink of bursting.
But the shed's prized contribution to the curbside collection was the leaf blower. I'd bought it from a neighbor at a friendly discount before he moved away years ago. That fall, I fired it up, and after about five minutes spent roaming the yard spreading noise pollution amid a cloud of bluish-gray smoke, I came to realize that with a rake in my hand I could do faster and more thorough work. The blower had sat untouched since that day. About 20 minutes after I placed it by the curb, it was gone. As I closed the door on that freshly purged shed, I offered a quick wink to the rakes leaning on the wall in the corner.
Onto Saturday’s ground zero, the garage...
Half our garage is bordered by huge storage closets. I don't have to tell you how easy it is to spend years stuffing such closets full of utter randomness, and then stubbornly abiding by the out of sight, out of mind creed.
We penetrated those closets with a vengeance, and we dug deep, into the darkest reaches in the corners that required a flashlight, where apparent do-it-yourselfers and possible construction buffs who'd lived there prior to us left pallets of shingles, bricks, copper tubing and even rebar.
Then my wife saw all the lumber, 1 by 4's and 1 by 6's and 2 by 4's and 2 by 6's and 2 by 8's and even a 2 by 10. Some we had accumulated in our 15 years in the house as we took on various projects, but I'd been aware for years that there was more lumber in those big closets that pre-dated our arrival.
"Wow!" my wife marveled. Then she said something about all the space we'd create by bringing all of that lumber to the curb.
And I just looked at her.
"What?" she said.
My stare did not deviate.
Over the next few minutes I explained to my wife the importance of lumber, and having some on hand for when unexpected projects arrive, or if you have to, say, pummel an intruder. She looked at me like I was a comedian performing a bit on stage, but all that really matters is that no lumber was brought to our curbside last Saturday.
I knew our work in the garage was going to be the flashpoint for my wife's emotional state that day, because those closets amounted to a treasure chest bursting with our sons' childhoods. One was a baby and one was a toddler when we moved in, and the contents of those closets was a timeline. The sleds and snowboards and hockey sticks are what got to her. Some of those sticks I swear were three feet tall.
We had a talk. I took the angle that it didn't matter if someone was going to take those sticks, sleds and snowboards from our curb for their family to use or if they were going to put a price tag on them and sell them, they were going to be enjoyed again by some other kids.
The sad look on my wife's face conveyed the notion that we were somehow ridding our house of evidence that we were parents, of proof that two boys had enjoyed pretty damn special childhoods in that home.
But there were other treasures found that day, and they remain safely tucked away in various boxes, envelopes and even big chests on the floor.
The pictures. The real, actual pictures that you can put your hands on and gaze at for as long as you like. Not the ones you just endlessly flip through with a swipe of your finger on a small screen.
There's the proof beyond a reasonable doubt, there's the official record, I told her, of our kids and their lives so far. We don't need to look at a little plastic baseball bat or a Tonka truck to know what's transpired at our house, because we have the pictures. And they're not going anywhere.