the packrat king

If you’ve ever visited Lotusland, you’ll instantly know why I was drawn to these clamshells.

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Set up temporarily on a bird bath stand. I was hoping they’d hold a lot more water than they do.

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Sitting on the stand at these awkward angles, the only stable arrangement, leaves just a very shallow pool. Possibly enough to slake a bird’s thirst, if not enough for a Botticelli bath.


The real deal at Lotusland.

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When one of my high school buddies called to ask if I knew of someone who would be interested in sorting and pricing the contents of his father’s garage, I immediately grasped the enormity he faced. This garage was mythic. I had visited it once, maybe twice as a teenager, and the endless drawers of rocks and gemstones, the shelves filled with the corruscated shapes of geodes, had left an indelible impression. There was also a hazy impression of a typical, post-WWII suburban garage divided into cramped rooms stuffed to the gunwhales with whatever had aroused his dad’s magpie tendencies, which were epic by any magpie standards. As a teenager, I couldn’t help but compare it to the garage at my parents’ home, which most disappointingly housed a car and tidy laundry facilities. I had to see it again, if only to test the soundness of adolescent memories that had burnished that garage into a cave of wonders. Was it just a junk pile? I needed an impartial third eye to soberly assess this storehouse of dreams. Marty agreed to come along.

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Clams just aren’t growing them like this anymore.

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My buddy figured two years would be needed to get the job done, the contents sorted and priced, destined for collectors or sold as scrap. Two years now seems an optimistic number to me. Inching sideways through the packed shelves, a new question pops up with each step: How long does Kodachrome film last? Why all the boxes of pencils? Is this Life magazine with Paul and Linda on the cover worth anything? And then there’s the big question that looms over everything: How could he leave all this stuff for his family to sort through? It is an overwhelming, Herculean task. My buddy will be living with what is essentially a physical manifestation of the dusty nooks and crannies of his father’s imagination for years to come….oh, wait a minute. Is that really such a bad thing? Looking at my buddy’s haggard face, I wasn’t sure.

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I grabbed my Lotsuland clamshells, a set of cocktail glasses sporting the pirate ship logo of the old Tasman Sea, now closed, and made a clean getaway. Marty fully corroborated my impressions, that this man had collected his way into something extraordinary. Bizarre and of dubious value, but extraordinary.

I can’t wait to go back.

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9 Responses to the packrat king

  1. Lost Roses says:

    Yeah, this kind of thing worries me too. I’d love to be on the buying end of this as an estate sale but would hate to be the sellers! Must organize…

  2. Kris P says:

    I sympathize with your friend. My mother was a self-proclaimed “collector.” For decades, I urged her to clean things up while she was able to, suggesting that a time might come when my brother and I’d have to do it for her. Sadly, she ignored me and, when the time came, we tossed out a lot of stuff without much in the way of evaluation just to make room for medical equipment and caregivers. Now, after her death, my brother to whom I gave my interest in her home still faces a seemingly unending chore. My best friend is going through an even more awful sort/clean-up. For my own part, I purge anything that’s left sitting about without a purpose…

  3. Denise says:

    @LR, I know! it all depends on what part you get to play in a situation like this, the family member on the hook or the curious collector.
    @Kris, my mom is at the opposite end of the spectrum and wants to be as little of a “burden” as possible. She’s got it all cleaned out and organized, with instructions, lists, etc.

  4. Peter/Outlaw says:

    I rather enjoyed my time with my siblings sorting through years of collections in my parents’ house when our mother died. We had a wonderful reunion, and shared memories and stories of many of the items. For us, the “physical manifestation of the dusty nooks and crannies of his father’s imagination” (love that image, thanks!) welcomed us to remember, relive, reconnect with each other, and smile. Even the Queen Elizabeth Coronation and JFK collections. Reading your post has brought back warm memories. Thanks.

  5. Collecting stuff is such a dilemma. At what point do we declutter our stuff and lives? I have a shell collection that is mostly in boxes in a closet and some antique glass that I love. Books, books, and more books, time to let them go. I do all my reading on a Kindle now. Art supplies, I could paint until the end of the next millennia and not run out of paints and brushes. I’m not ready to see them go yet. We have a good friend whose father was more a hoarder than a packrat and it took them years to clean out the house not to mention the indoor swimming pool that had no water but was FULL of stuff. The problem there was he had a lot of antiques that were worth a lot of money so it all had to be gone through carefully.

  6. Denise says:

    @Peter, this kind of situation must heighten the family dynamics, good or bad, and it sounds like you and your siblings are a close bunch anyway. I remember clearing out my grandmother’s house, and all my aunts were irritated by her things — stuff like Bauer pottery that I rescued from the trash heap!
    @Deanne, books are my weakness too. I’m finding that having a small house with very little storage isn’t such a bad thing after all. But then of course there’s the garden…what an albatross that will be!

  7. So are you the one who will be helping to sort and price?

  8. Denise says:

    Loree, gosh, no. This is way out of my league. All I could suggest was craigslist. I just wanted to see it before the garage is dismantled, but it doesn’t sound like that’s going to be happening very soon.

  9. Hoov says:

    On the other extreme my Mom & Dad’s house was immaculate. Mom did not want to leave a mess for us so she got rid of just about everything unnecessary. There wasn’t even dust under the refrigerator. Somewhere in the middle is probably better–some going through stuff is a way of saying goodbye.

    Love the shells. As you say, they don’t make clams like they used to.

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