Cleaning the garage of junk, trying not to touch the memories

There’s much to deal with after a lifetime of tools, oil changes and car parts

Originally published May 25, 2017

At one time it held a car.

It seems impossible now, even though the cars I own are smaller than the ones my father bought; it’s like the cinderblock walls contracted, the years of dust and grime reducing their measure along with any desire to have anything actually touch them. He threw out nothing, and two decades after his death it now falls to me to decide what can be rescued from 50 years of accumulation.

He saved everything.

I’ve had a go at it over the years, the appearance of a dumpster in my driveway still striking more joy in my heart than any diamond, any bouquet of flowers. I’ve done some renovations and chucked and recycled and reduced. I’m much like my father in every way save that one: I see a chance to purge as a lightening, a rebirth. He saw a dumpster as a shopping excursion.

I was born in this house, and now I am leaving. Unlike my parents who were able to hand the place, near-fully loaded, to an unprodigal daughter, I must deliver a home to market that looks like it was never a home at all. For the interior rooms my father cared little about, this has been a challenge on my back and my wallet, but not my heart. No, it is here in this garage that stories are being whispered in my ear and dust motes are forcing me to see ghosts.

garage

I know the proper way to clean a garage. Remove everything and strew it all across the driveway while the neighbours wonder how such a small space birthed so much detritus. Sweep and hose, and put back everything that must be kept and dispose of anything leftover. Wheat from chaff, mutton from lamb, trash from treasure.

Except my heart falls down that old rabbit hole, the one dug by my father and nursed all those years. What if? What if I need this? What if someone else needs this? You never know, you just can’t tell, it might be useful, it might fit someone, it’s still got some life, we don’t know where it came from so how can we know where it goes?

I long ago got rid of things that actually were useful, were still good. New quarts of Quaker State from when he bought his oil a case at a time. Fram filters in their original cartons, off to a good home, if not a better one. Dad was stocking enough things to do oil changes when he was already hooked up to an oxygen tank, pushing a coupon in one of my hands as he thrust a flyer in the other. I guess he figured he’d be using his quintupled points wherever he was going; I’m sure he arrived at the Pearly Gates with a fistful of Canadian Tire money.

He was a fan of hanging things up, and pounded giant nails into the mortar of the walls. I ditched his mangled metal snow shovels – five of them – but simply hung up plastic ones instead. I’ve left his row of saws as he left them decades ago, now beyond use but still the artwork of a man who would have barked at you in disbelief if you told him he had an artistic soul.

Floor space is limited in a small garage that usually stores four sets of winter tires in the off season. I made the kids clear them out, though I know he’d be proud they all take car maintenance seriously. We don’t crawl beneath the metal beasts to bleed out the old Quaker State and replace it with new, but we make sure someone else does because only an idiot would skimp on oil changes, says the voice in my head.

I found the jacks he’d used beneath whatever station wagon he was working on, and remembered peering beneath, all hunched over little girl full of whatcha doing and can I help. I never cared how dirty I got, and spent much time sitting on the kitchen counter as my mother tried to pry the oil from under my nails while giving my father that face. They’d patch our street with tar and when it bubbled up in the summer heat, my sisters and I would pop the black blueberries with our fingers and toes, then come home to be put back on the counter, again. Kids are supposed to get mucky; my father taught me that.

The garage still has a lot of wheels in it, even absent a car and extra tires. I’ve stored my sons’ longboards for reasons I’m not sure of, though my old roller skates, left behind when I moved out, are still strung up by their grubby pink laces where my father hung them. I’d convinced myself I was so different, but I’m doing what he did. This keeper philosophy is obviously bred in the bone.

Tomorrow, I tell myself. Tomorrow I’ll clear all of this out.

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2 responses to Cleaning the garage of junk, trying not to touch the memories

  1. Sandy says:

    Don’t know where you begin to deal with all that stuff.
    My father has a similar work bench that I was looking at last night, wondering what on earth will happen to all those little bits and pieces one day.
    There are shelves he built out of cupboard doors that came from my house when I gutted the kitchen. I can still hear my mother telling him to buy some wood for those shelves and him replying that those cupboard doors were perfectly good for the shelves, and they were free.
    Instead of the seen on TV ‘demo day’ were a kitchen gets destroyed, mine was taken apart piece by piece with great care, so that all the parts could be recycled to use for something else.
    (and I still have my roller skates too…..can’t bear to part with them even though the Roller Gardens has been gone for a very long time)

  2. Pat says:

    When Mom sold her house it took 5 truck loads from the junk guys, after we three had taken what we wanted. Mom still asks, “whatever happened to the ?” “Oh it went to a good home Mom.”

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