The elastic waistband, cut from a pair of size 36 “tighty whitey” underpants, stopped me in my tracks.
“Why,” I asked Dad, holding up the waistband, “do you still have this?”
“That’s a perfectly good piece of elastic,” he said, appreciating my incredulity and the humor of the moment — along with his own thriftiness.
An abundance of discovery washed over me last Saturday as I helped Dad clean out his garage. He’s selling his Pinehurst place in a few weeks, and though he and Mom were only there for 12 years, they brought with them a lifetime of collected things.
Dad, born on the front porch of the Depression, grew up wasting not. Everything had a use — and multiple reuses. This he never grew out of. When his sons would plow through another jar of peanut butter, both jar and lid would be washed for repurposing. He would glue the lid to the underside of a shelf in his workshop and then use the jar for storing nails, screws, bolts — you name it. Then he’d screw the jar to the lid. He had a wall of tiered shelving like this.
Dad was never a tradesman, but I can’t recall a skill he couldn’t perform with a tool. Our home in Maryland had an unfinished basement. Over weekends, he finished it in, even installing a chalk board for the boys — and building a workshop room for himself around the air-handling equipment.
Dad inherited his father-in-law’s wooden workbench and tools. Over the years, Dad accumulated so many more: tools for woodworking, electrical, plumbing, gardening.
Home Depot and Lowe’s show all these well-groomed millennial men with their well-groomed work projects. Dad was the origin story, in his grimy paint-stained T-shirt and jeans, sweating out some project over Grandpa Domenick’s old workbench, a fluorescent bulb in the shop light dangling above him, the tinny radio playing one of those sickening easy-listening songs. Neatly organized all around him, hanging from pegboards, tucked away in hand-labeled bins, or stowed in former peanut butter jars were a collective of odds and ends that — you never know! — would come in handy one day.
“I have a variety!” Dad exclaimed in self-defense.
One drawer we cleaned out last week was just rolls of tape, including a roll I remember messing with as a kid. It was a large heavy roll whose adhesive you had to wet first before applying. It was made by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. — before the company started calling itself 3M! Keep or discard? I kept.
Another drawer had scraps of elastic, bundles of twist ties, short lengths of rope. Keep or discard? I kept some, threw some out.
Then we came to the tools, some of which belonged to both my grandfathers: grips, screwdrivers, hammers, a Craftsman drill in a metal carrying case, bits of every size, wire strippers, borers, levels, ice picks — ice picks! — shears, socket sets. Keep or discard? Are you crazy? I kept all of it, including a small T-square. I’ve never used one and probably never will, but hey, it’s family.
The finds weren’t limited to Dad’s workbench. In the garage closet, he had neatly labeled bins containing assorted electrical components, plumbing parts and 20-year-old cordless phones and assorted computer peripherals. On the shelf were empty padded mailing envelopes, next to empty odd-sized boxes. Because you never know.
The one keeper of the closet was wrapped in a plastic bag: our old avocado-green rotary phone from 40 years ago. This had been an upgrade from our black rotary phone. The center circle of the rotary has typed out — as in, a typewriter — our phone number: 305-777-5333.
Cable TV is filled with shows about the discovery and recovery of past things. And we can sit there on a sofa and scoff at those crazy people who kept all that crap all those years.
But these things we’ve been handed down? What’s so crazy about all this? Only that we’d think of getting rid of it. Because you never know when you’ll need a good piece of elastic.