By Joe Rector

I figure many folks are like me; they’ve made it through the first week of “social distancing” and stayed at home. It feels much like those times when snow dumped several inches on us in East Tennessee except the roads are clear and there’s no sledding or snowman building.

Some people have defied the warnings and have spent a week with others on beaches or held coronavirus parties. I won’t call them morons, but those folks must feel as if they are invincible. My hope is that they don’t return home to spread the illnesses to friends and family who have followed the guidelines for avoiding trouble.

The rainy weather has made isolation more trying. Thankfully, my children are grown; however, at the request of my daughter, I’ve facetimed with my grandson each day to read a short story, discuss literary elements, and complete a writing assignment. He’s been a good sport about the whole thing; best of all, I get uninterrupted time with him each day.

I also went on a cleaning spree. That included declaring war on two closets that were packed with “stuff.” My personal closet was stuffed with extra pillows, as well as personal things. I found travel tubes of toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, razors, and dental floss were crammed into three different plastic bags. I culled the yucky looking items and put the remainder in one container.

I found hats in a box, one that I’d searched for when high school baseball was still being played. I pulled down boxes with my mother’s jewelry that hadn’t been selected by family members. None of it is worth anything, but I just couldn’t toss the collection.

The second closet was an eclectic mix of nonvaluable things. Many items were stuffed in the area to keep from cluttering up other more essential places. Other things sparked memories. The boxes for a camera and lens I used to take photos for news stories, as well as on vacations, were crammed on the top shelf. They’d been there for nearly ten years. I found another box for a flip phone I’d used, and one for an old iPod. A large black garbage bag was bursting with those and other boxes no longer needed.

An old movie camera and reels from Amy’s dad were shelved in the closet. Beside it was a red tool box that contained service medals and other keepsakes from the man who had died much too early in her life.

I found several notebooks from my teaching days. They contained notes I’d taken in college and plenty of information that I passed along to my classes over a thirty-year career. Tests took up a section, and my favorite poems, short stories, and essays of authors thickened up those black, three-ringed binders.

I looked at the collection of stuff and, after an intense internal struggle, tossed them in the garbage can. I’d told myself that I might need all that stuff again but finally admitted that neither I nor anyone else would use the materials. It was tough to toss a career’s worth of materials in the trash, but doing so would be easier for me now than for my family when I wasn’t around anymore.

My mother never discarded her teaching materials. When she passed, we lugged stacks of the stuff to boxes for disposal. She’d even saved a five-foot stack of National Geographic Magazines that might come in handy for her classroom. I suppose she also thought someone else could make use of the things, but the truth is that good teachers would rather develop their own materials to fit their personal teaching style.

Cleaning closets is always a difficult task. So many things might come in handy in the future, or so we think. The hardest task is throwing away the things that were so much of our past, but the truth is that they are just that…a part of our past, no one else’s.

I hope things return to normal soon. Otherwise, I might have gotten rid of my entire life’s collection of things.