“You know, Gramma, what might seem like garbage to one person, could be really important to someone else,” six-year old Ben with his big round sober blue eyes looked earnestly up at my mother. He was beautiful, full of innocence, and had a perchance for garbage. Clean-up week was my worst nightmare. Ben celebrated it. I cringed each time he came into the house with a new “treasure.” I stared perplexed at the colorful Nickelodeon clock radio he had duct taped to a rusty discarded scale certain he was up to date on his tetanus shots, and asked, “What does this do?” His reply carried great confidence and enthusiasm, “I’m not sure yet, but it’s going to be something really cool.” SO, as my well-meaning mother went through his room, out went his prized invention. We would never know what it was to become or how very cool it would be.
Once my kids were all in school full time, Mom would come on Wednesdays to help with laundry. I was home with her one freezing cold February day, and she was in a purging mood. I suppose the packrat ways of my children didn’t sit well with my mother or myself, being people who crave order. I had allowed this, not wanting to suppress their imaginations; especially Ben’s as I marveled at how limitless it seemed.
The girls’ room was straightforward, packaging up clothes that were worn beyond use to be thrown out, and packaging other items of clothing that were no longer useful to us, which would be taken to good will. The toy room proved a bit trickier. I kept a watchful eye, covertly saving toys which would be missed; envisioning the stricken faces of my children should they discover their favorites gone forever.
By the time we got to the boys’ room, I had caught my mother’s contagious enthusiasm, and the purging felt liberating. Marie Kondo would have been pleased! We got carried away. The turtles that the boys begged us to get them for their fifth birthday had become long neglected. It was the boys’ job to feed them. Unsupervised, they may have over fed or underfed the critters, not my turtles, not my problem, right? Their keepers were five years old. I had enough to do. Does it sound like I’m setting up a defense? I most definitely am.
One of the turtles was dead beyond a certainty. The other was possibly dead, definitely knocking on the door of turtle heaven. So, fine, part of me knew the tiny reptile wasn’t quite dead. Ok, they also stunk to high heaven, and I was sick of being the only one cleaning their disgusting aquarium habitat. After I put dead-as-a-doornail turtle into a grocery bag and took him to his final resting place on the ground outside the front door beside the growing pile of discarded items, I debated with myself and with Mom. We convinced each other that the remaining turtle was indeed dead. I put him in his grocery bag coffin and set him outside, beside his mate. After an hour or so, I couldn’t help myself, so I peeked out the door to check. To my horror, the second grocery bag had moved a foot! I had murdered a tiny defenseless turtle for my own convenience! I have to live with that heinous act, and yes it still haunts me, the act, not the turtle. I like to think that he appreciated the act of mercy. Surely he’s grateful to be in a better place. That’s what I tell myself in hopes of one day overcoming the guilt, shame, and horror of it.
Ben also very seriously informed his grandmother, “Everyone in my family is really smart, you know.” She replied just as seriously, “Yes, I know.” His response, forever priceless, “I’m smarter.”
I could almost see him standing there and telling aunt Eleanor that in his little boy voice.
Keep writing. We readers need these stories and for me, memories