“In the between” is a phrase Robert Thurman uses to describe the “place” between death and life, a fitting description of where we are in the Midwest just now. The drought is lessening, thanks to rains that came far sooner than we were led to believe they might. The grass is inordinately green and lush and no longer sounds like crackling shredded wheat biscuits under our feet. The corn, having gotten over its temporary osteoporosis, stands a little taller now, though—in keeping with the old folks metaphor—it’s missing some kernels. The bass and blue gill are pleased to report that pond has crept up a good six inches, and it is as full as they expect it to be in September. Our tomato plants, having doubled their June-July size, are blooming madly. The spinach, arugula, green beans, and lettuces we planted last week already have come up.
Because it’s been raining, Keith and I have spent a great deal of time indoors over the past three weeks, alternating periods of indolence and activity. We read Unbroken, picked grapes, apples, and pears between rain showers, listened to Prairie Home Companion and This American Life. During one rainy evening meal that included a very nice Cabernet, we also made plans to clean the garage. Given that the garage had not been cleaned since 1966, it was an ambitious commitment, the sort we make only under the influence and with no intention of keeping. But we were thwarted the next day when a cousin called to confirm the date of a family gathering, one to which we were expected to bring the Seidel family’s 1865 “Buckeye” cider press. Said cider press was—we were pretty sure of it– somewhere in that 24X26 mountain of junk.
And so we decided we really would clean the garage. (What the heck—it was raining again anyway.) Keith parked the dump truck in the driveway while I gathered up trash bags and brooms and dusting rags, and we set to work with the spirit of adventurers. Because after all, who knew what treasures we might find in the Perry Farm garage?
Two full days later, I can tell you what we did find:
- The hand carved oak seat from the original Perry outhouse.
- Chemicals with names like “Marvel Mystery Oil,” “Flytox,” “Captan,” and “DDT.” (At this point, Keith took a break to fire up the MiFi so he could locate the nearest hazardous waste disposal site.)
- A very large and perfect hornet’s nest which Keith cut off a tree limb over thirty years ago.
- Grandfather Perry’s cobbler tools, including a shoe lathe sized for a child’s foot and the hammer Keith uses to whack walnuts.
- A mummified mouse in a mouse-piss-and-turd-studded mound of regurgitated burlap and newspaper. (Let me confess, gentle reader, that this is the point at which I went indoors to put on long sleeves, long pants, gloves, and a dust mask.)
- A two-hundred-year-old, hand-hewn wooden mallet too heavy for any ordinary mortal to swing, but which the men in the McClure family used to split rails.
- Every single scrap left from the construction of the current Perry house, roof to subfloor: Redwood siding, guttering, kitchen floor tiles, oak flooring, masonite , formica, ash woodwork, and boxes of nails in all sizes.
- Salvage from the first Perry house, including the walnut doors and drawers from the built-in hutch in the kitchen.
- Keith’s grandmother and great-grandmother’s very well worn, wooden kitchen tables.
- Six pairs of knee-high rubber boots in assorted sizes, one to fit every member of the extended family (though not at the same time).
- Grandfather Perry’s carbide coal miner’s lantern.
- A tiny fish made out of silver, likely a charm lost from a bracelet and hidden in the silk lining of a battered leather suitcase for a hundred years.
- Keith’s 50-plus-year-old Tonka road grader, bull dozer, and dump trucks.
- The Seidel Family cider press!
By 6PM of the second day, the garage was clean, save for a mouse-inhabited cardboard box that appeared to be full of seashells. Since I already was inoculated against Hanta virus, I dumped the lot onto the sidewalk and sprayed it down with the hose. At last, we’d found real treasure. Volcanic rocks and pieces of coral Keith’s mother picked up while she was stationed in Hawaii during World War II. Seashells she collected on the beach in Florida when she went to visit her little brother, Herman. Arrowheads and spearheads Keith’s father found when he was working the fields. The largest Indian bead we have ever seen, found by one parent or another in some limestone-bottomed creek bed.
This was no ordinary box: It was a treasure chest, into which Keith’s parents dropped the odds and ends they picked up outdoors over the course of their long lives.
Because they also knew that every new day is an adventure and every discovery a treasure, whether it takes us outside, inside, or in between.