“What are you doing?” George flinched a little as he heard the way his voice tilted upward at the end of his question. Upon entering their kitchen, he had found his wife sitting on the floor, haphazardly moving various items from one container to another.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” Martha responded. “Spring cleaning.”
“Well, the cleaning is well overdue.” Martha continued to transfer knickknacks from the plastic tub on her left to the trashcan on her right, muttering something about charity. “We never use any of this junk!”
“That’s not true!”
“George, when was the last time you opened this box?”
George, crossing his arms, positioned himself between his wife and the trash can. “My point exactly! You hid these from me. How was I supposed to use them?”
“Hid them?! Excuse me for deciding they could collect dust just as well in the basement as they could spread all over our bedroom.”
“And how exactly was having them ‘spread all over our bedroom’ not using them? How else is a person supposed to use knickknacks?”
Exasperated, Martha offered a compromise, not that she expected her husband to be able to hold up his end of the bargain. “George, if you can tell me where this one was before I boxed it up, I’ll let you pick five to keep.”
George stared at the little glass duckling she held in her hand. It was the color of lemonade and wore a small hat that was not unlike an ice cube. “Um … it was in our room.” He knew he wasn’t helping himself, but he just needed time to think!
“Where in our room?”
“On a piece of furniture.”
George swallowed. No time left to stall. “Your dresser?”
Martha promptly dropped the duck into the trash can. They silently listened to the clinking of glass hitting glass.
“I bet you just knocked off his hat,” George said.
“I bet Goodwill accepts ducks without hats,” Martha said.
“Martha, do you remember where the duck used to sit?” George knew it was unlikely, but he really hoped she didn’t.
“On your nightstand.”
Of course, George thought. He tried to think of a way to turn this into a positive. If only he could remember where they had gotten the duck, or why it had been on his nightstand in particular.
His wife didn’t seem willing to wait for him to come up with a proper response, though. “Oh, I’m sorry, was that supposed to make me want to keep it?” Martha deposited another glass figurine — this one was a moose — into the trash can. She was slightly gentler, but the clinking was just as loud.
“Martha, what harm does it do to have one more box in the basement? What if our kids want these someday?”
Martha thought back to the horrifying stacks of cardboard boxes that had been discovered in the basement of her childhood home after her mother’s death. So many things she had been left to feel guilty for not knowing where they had come from or why they were saved for so long. “You know what I think our kids will want someday? I think they’ll want to rummage through our house and see the things they gave us. Not some glass duck that was a wedding present from a great uncle they’ve never met, or a moose missing an antler that you just had to buy on a camping trip twenty years ago.”
George, finally feeling victorious, brought up their oldest daughter. “Jeanie was on that camping trip! Maybe it would bring back fond memories. Why don’t we hold onto it for her?”
Martha sighed. “Jeanie was two when we went on that camping trip. All she remembers is that we all survived. Really, all she remembers is being told we went on a camping trip and survived.”
“It was a good camping trip!”
“I was seven months pregnant! The last thing I wanted was to be in the woods with a toddler!”
“Doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun!” George pushed the trash can far enough to the right that he could sit down between it and his wife. “Doesn’t make it any less of a memory.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Martha fidgeted with a tiny glass strawberry. “Happy Mother’s Day” was inscribed on the side. George noticed it and recognized it instantly. It was a souvenir from one of the best days of guy’s life: the day he’d found out he was going to be a father.
George nudged her. “Remember when I gave you that?”
Martha smiled. “It was a few days after I told you I was pregnant with Jeanie.”
“Two days after you told me. Four days after Mother’s Day. I can still feel the excitement of finding out they had something left. You deserved to get to celebrate your first Mother’s Day, even if it was a few days late.”
“Why a strawberry?”
“Well, I really wanted Jeanie to end up a little carrot top like you. Of course, they don’t sell glass carrots for Mother’s Day and I’ve always thought your hair was more red than orange. So when I saw the strawberry, I thought it fit perfectly.”
Martha did not want to acknowledge the water droplets in her eyes. Eyes still glued to the strawberry, she told her husband, “Getting rid of the knickknacks doesn’t mean we’re getting rid of the memories.”
“I know,” George said. “But I still don’t see why the kids can’t be the ones to do it. You know, once we’re dead and buried.”
Martha’s eyes took inventory of the box’s contents. More glass knickknacks that had been presents from one member of the family to another. Vacation souvenirs from Florida and Chicago and Boston. As much as she hated to admit it, George had a point. Here was her family’s history. Maybe not the milestones, but the small things. The things that gave proof of their love for each other and their desire to spend time together. And maybe she could make it so that this box could someday comfort her children by keeping the memories alive as long as she was.
She hid her smile from her husband and gently placed the strawberry back in the plastic tub. Maybe some things were worth allowing to collect dust in the basement.