Stories from the Junk Room

A friend and I were reminiscing yesterday about what people in Idaho called the “junk room”; that room in an unseen part of the house where the door was always closed and the smell of mothballs was ever-present. I had two favorite junk rooms. One was in my grandmother’s house, an upstairs bedroom piled pell-mell with old furniture, toys, outdated appliances, and a large trunk filled with1950’s prom dresses and fake fur coats.

The other was in my neighbor Helen’s house, a back room overflowing with items left over from the days when she and her husband ran a grocery store in the 1930s. Old cash registers, scales, adding machines, and a wonderful Underwood typewriter with the ribbon still attached.

Those rooms were time machines. They were havens for imagination. But most of all, they were stories come to life. And because the stories belonged to people I loved; I loved all the items too.

Maybe we pass down a roll-top desk for generations because it’s beautiful, but more likely because it comes with a story linking us to the great-grandfather who built it. Maybe we leave a set of silver to our heirs not because it’s worth money, but because it was the only thing of value our great-grandmother ever owned. Buying that silver was proof she had achieved the good life she’d hoped for in America.

The items themselves have value, but it’s the stories that make them valuable. Our great-grandparents didn’t build that desk or buy that silver in hopes of “living forever,” they did it to put something beautiful into the world. A bit of love and pride and joy that could last.

It’s tricky though, isn’t it? Not all of our ancestors were good people. Not all of them deserved to be cherished. They are our cautionary tales, but those stories are important too. That may not mean we hold on to the things they left behind, but the history remains. It’s part of us too.

And long past when those items have disappeared or when old traditions and norms, like junk rooms, go away (sometimes for good reason), hopefully the stories will remain.

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