First published Thursday, February 6, 2014
During the holidays I decided to tackle the toys lurking underneath my middle son's bed, deciding, first and foremost, that bins under beds should have lids: no one wants to play with a dusty toy. There I found a bin containing hundreds of small stones, each one unique, hand-picked by one of my sons on one or another warm summer day. My favourite featured a tiny, perfectly-formed fossilized sea creature. Since downsizing was the goal, not discarding outright, I went through them handful by handful, salvaging the ones that had interesting qualities. Inevitably, I grew wistful about the boys' childhood times of seeking and finding treasures like these, and even my own early days spent on the shores of Lake Huron.
Through this sorting exercise, I came to understand in a deeper way an elderly client of mine who passed away last year, whose abandoned house was, quite simply, filled with newspapers. A special company had to be called in, and a month spent emptying the house after he died, rousting out the racoons who had been letting themselves in for years through an upper window.
During Keith’s last years in a nursing home, his room would continually be overwhelmed by newspapers, and he was wistful about them, asking for scissors so he could review and cut out particular articles. The energy to do so was long gone, but clearly his treasure on this earth was knowledge, and engagement with the world of today. He was known to have provided financial support for the studies of several young people in the family. He told stories about the decades he had spent in Ontario rail yards, as a liquid loads expert. His eyes would sparkle, seeing me walk in with a handful of mail and newspapers. A house full of newspapers is eloquent in its own way, when you know the context.