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It's a perfect week to preserve my piles

April 23, 2012

This is National Preservation Week.

Which means that, if you are a librarian, you are probably already setting out the chips and mixing up a big punch bowl of sloe gin fizzes.

Yeah man, this is the week that, according to The Washington Post, we call attention to “our presidential papers and Lincoln Bibles and notes handwritten by Emily Dickinson.”

That’s fine. But, news flash, I am not Emily Dickinson. Or Lincoln. And the closest thing I have to a family Bible is Stats Inc.’s “Baseball Almanac.” Verily, the fact that the batting average first appeared in print in 1874 means a lot more to me than all this love-your-neighbor claptrap.

We are also moving, and we are moving at a point in our lives where the name of the game is not preservation, but downsizing.

Having passed the 50-year milepost, I have settled upon this discomforting but slightly liberating truth: In another 50 years, no one is going to care that I posed for a picture with Kate Pierson of the B-52s. No one is going to care that I once stood atop a snowy pass in the Himalayas, whose name even I have forgotten. No one is going to care what my thoughts were as I hiked the Inca trail.

No one is going to value anything that I value, especially since, in a lot of cases, even I don’t value it anymore.

The gist of the Post story was that the Library of Congress places high value on, and goes to great lengths to preserve, not just historic papers and photographs, but old video games, eight-track tapes, floppy discs and video cassettes.

In today’s world, media become obsolete in the blink of a flash drive. (Giving seed to my all-time favorite tech quote: “How do you know if a technology is obsolete? If it works.”)

Not being the Library of Congress, I walked with determination into my machine shed, ready and willing to take no archaic prisoners. Just call me “Clean Sweep Sammy,” everything must go — no nostalgia need apply. Nor would I succumb to the mating call of the weak of mind, the notion that one day I might NEED a refrigerator rack that fits a 1977 Westinghouse side-by-side.

So I reach up on a shelf, and the first thing I pull down is a box of my dad’s old 78s. The ones that he played on the old Victrola on Sunday after church as mom fried chicken.

It took the wind straight out of my sails. All my admonishments to myself to be strong and jettison stuff I’d never use again flew right up the flume.

How does anyone with a soul chuck Enrico Caruso into a hardened-plastic receptacle provided by Waste Management?

I’d already designated areas for my “keep pile” and my “throw-away pile.” Now I was forced to begin a third pile. A “hold onto it for a few more days until maybe you feel a little better about throwing it out, which is what you should have done in the first place” pile.

On the pile went the records. On it went my childhood tackle box. On it went all the vases with enough of a pedigree to be called VAW-zez, but not enough to inspire so much as an apathetic belch out of “Antiques Roadshow.”

Immediately, it became the biggest, and pretty much the only pile. In other words, I accomplished nothing.

Well, I shouldn’t say that. I’m no closer to resolution over whether this stuff should stay or go than when I began the project — but at least now, instead of sitting on shelves, it’s all in a big pile, midfloor. If nothing else, it should qualify me for a job at the Library of Congress.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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