I have covered before how I am essentially regarded as some kind of weird changeling in my family as I am pretty tidy and my parents and siblings are less so. A key component of being tidy is getting rid of things – throwing them out, giving them away, eating them, if necessary. Apparently my father’s mother was pretty tidy and it is a source of lasting bitterness that she gave away some of his toys before he was quite ready to say goodbye (he is 94, I think we can call it lasting at this stage). In Cork, when something can’t be found, even something no sane person would ever throw out, the question is always, “Did Anne throw it out?” like, for example, “Anne, did you throw out a cheque for €500?” This is an example drawn from life.
My mother used to stymie my attempts to get rid of things and chastise me with the words, “I’m not part of the throw-away generation.” She would then carefully preserve whatever item I had been about to toss carelessly into the bin – a useful box, an exhausted tea towel which could be repurposed for shoe shining, a random screw – and put it away somewhere. She was a big fan of “a place for everything and everything in its place” in theory although the practice was slightly more haphazard.
And now, I find that my children are stopping me from throwing things out. Reduce, reuse, recycle is a household mantra. However worthy, it is quite tiring. Now, when I go to throw things in the bin, my hand is stayed by anxious teenagers who want to know whether it is going in the right bin and indeed whether we can reuse it. Also, Michael, the world’s most sentimental child, has retained all his childhood toys many of which have not been used in years. But given my grandmother’s example, I know that I can never get rid of them.
I suppose it’s only a question of time before I turn into my parents and start stockpiling things in the attic. I was in Cork recently and my father said to me, “Do you remember the stairs to the attic in [the house we moved out of when you were 12]?” I did. “Do you remember the sisal matting that was on the stairs?” More surprisingly, I did. “Well,” said he, “it is stored under the eaves in the attic. ” In response to my raised eyebrow, he added “Perfectly good carpet, it might be useful again someday.” The bane of my life, the potential usefulness of manifestly unuseful objects; proof – it has been sitting up there for nearly forty years. “Anyhow,” I wanted to say to you that your mother and I wrapped many valuables in it when we moved. ” He reminisced, “I think that the solid silver salver that Uncle Jack got when he retired (about 1950 I would guess) is in there.” I took myself to the attic. I found rolled up carpet under the eaves, having fought my way through an extraordinary array of material, and unrolled it gingerly (on top of a hideous coffee table that I recognised from my youth which was a present from my granny but which my mother, I have to say understandably, never liked) in the feeble light of the bare bulb dangling from the ceiling. Nothing. Then I looked left and right and saw that the whole space under the eaves was filled up with rolled up carpets. I know when I am beaten. Uncle Jack’s silver salver and any other treasures will have to wait for the next generation to unearth.