Aunt Margaret's Uterus and Other Miscellaneous Clutter
Janice Cutbush, Ballston Spa, NY
I try so hard to be a non-clutter person, but being neat and organized is not me. I have several friends who are neat-niks and I am surprised they are friends with me. It must make them feel very virtuous to come to my house and see all my piles and clutter. I have one friend whose kitchen counters are totally naked-no toaster, blender, knife holder, or even a coffee maker. I once walked into her house and smelled apple pie baking and was looking forward to seeing her counter covered with flour and apple peelings. But alas, it was only a fake candle pie, like the ones the real estate people tell you to buy when you are trying to sell your house, only she wasn't moving. She was probably trying to make me think she used her counter space occasionally.
I become overly attached to inanimate objects-that is my problem in a nut shell. To exacerbate my attachment problem, I am indecisive. So when I finally make up my mind that something falls into the category of clutter, I have a hard time deciding what to do with it, especially if it has any sentimental value attached to it. Add to all this, the fact that I was raised by immigrant parents who lived through The Depression. In other words, I came from a family of Savers. My mother reused aluminum foil for God's sake! At any given time you could find recycled margarine containers in her refrigerator with two tablespoons of last night's spinach or other leftover food that she was planning on eating until green mold would force her to throw it out. My dad was even worse. When he died, we found dozens of Altoid containers with rusty nails, screws, washers and other things he had been saving just in case he ever got around to fixing anything. So if being a clutter bug is genetic, I came by it naturally.
To make matters worse, my late husband was a pack rat, and insisted that there may be a use some day for almost anything, that is except Aunt Margaret's Uterus. When we moved from our first home to the house we designed and built, I was hoping to get rid of a lot of stuff. But between my husband, my father and me, we managed to salvage almost every bit of useless junk from the first house and install it securely in the new basement and attic. I remember we had kept my first record turntable from grade school with built in speakers. It was about 18 years old when we moved to the second house and my husband was willing to throw it out since we had a new and better music system by then. We put it out for the garbage men, pleased with ourselves for making the decision to get rid of something old that we didn't use anymore. The next morning my mother called to say, "In case you ever want to use your old record player again, it's in our basement. Your dad rescued it." She wasn't angry, she said in a matter of fact way, like it was a good piece of information to have. After that, my husband started taking our junk to the dumpster at his workplace, so my dad wouldn't "rescue" anymore of it. The two of us were bad enough, without having a third party add guilt to the mix.
As you can tell, this was way before the word "recycle" was in the American vocabulary. Back in the early seventies, dumps were still in fashion and landfills were not nearly filled. So bringing things to the dump was an acceptable way to get rid of unwanted home goods. The move went fairly smoothly and we mostly agreed on what stuff we should save and what we should bring to the dump, that is until we had the fight about Aunt Margaret's Uterus.
When we got married, my dear old Aunt Margaret had given us a piece of Venetian glass sculpture as a wedding present. It was green and gold and had two arched tubes coming from a center pouch. It served no purpose that we could determine. At first we thought it might be a vase, and tried to pour water in it, but it the water spilled out. Then we realized it was purely decorative and put it on the hutch in our green dining room. It matched our walls and was a conversation piece for sure because of its unusual shape. One night at a dinner party, one of our friends noticed that the shape was similar to a uterus with two fallopian tubes extending from it. That's how it came to be christened Aunt Margaret's Uterus. In our slightly inebriated state, we all thought this was hilarious. My husband had always hated the thing, and wanted to "re-gift it."
"If it can't hold food or alcohol - it's useless. We should get rid of it," he once said. So naturally when we moved, he did not want Aunt Margaret's Uterus to come with us. I insisted that we bring it to the new house.
"It's a wedding present from my aunt, my dad's oldest sister. When she comes to visit once a year, she will wonder where it is. And besides, it is bad karma to chuck a gift someone gives you." I argued.
"You really want to keep something that looks like the Venetian glass version of the female reproductive system just because your old aunt gave it to us a hundred years ago?"
My answer was always yes to this question, mostly because I still feared my aunt. She was the fussiest and most critical person I ever knew. For example, she once refused coffee at my mother's house because it was not in a china cup. She also never ate chicken except in her own home, because in her words, "You never know if it has been properly washed." When she did come to visit it was more like an inspection than a visit. She would tell you if a picture was hung crooked or if there was dust on a high shelf. Her visits were a reason to get your house cleaned.
My husband also was also attached to inanimate objects, but his were of the sporting goods variety. For instance, he kept his original golf clubs which had real wood for the woods. We also stored his original heavy metal Head skis, just in case they ever became valuable as antiques. I argued that the only creatures using his skis were the mice in the basement, who used them as bridges to cross the rafters where he had them stored.
In the end I won. We brought Aunt Margaret's Uterus to the new house. When my Aunt died, my husband really pressed me to get rid of it. For some reason, this made me more unwilling to give it up and besides I was sure she would haunt us if we ditched The Uterus. He kept threatening, "Some day it's just going to disappear and you won't know what happened to it."
He moved it out of the dining room and relegated it to the basement with the Christmas decorations and other things we didn't use very often. When we decided to have a garage sale one spring, Tom put The Uterus on a table. He bet me that no one would even look at it, let alone buy it. I put a price tag of $10 on it because I knew that Venetian glass is pricey.
A rumpled looking man with a big cigar and a pick up truck, stopped by and immediately went to The Uterus. It was like someone had told him it was there. He didn't look at anything else. I thought maybe he was an estate appraiser.
"You only asking $10 for this Venetian glass? How come? Does it have a defect?"
"Uh, no, not that I know of." I was taken off guard.
He examined it like it was the missing arm of Venus di Milo.
"Okay. I'll take it."
I became suspicious when he didn't want to dicker for it. Everyone dickers at garage sales. Then it dawned on me; he knows something I don't. The Uterus is really valuable and thinks it is a steal at $10.
"Um, I changed my mind. It's not for sale."
"Why do you have it out here then lady?"
"It's a mistake. My husband put it out and I didn't know he did it. I don't want to sell it."
"Okay, but you better put it back in the house before someone tries to steal it." He turned and left.
I quickly brought The Uterus back in the house. My instinct not to get rid of it had been right. My aunt had given us a really valuable piece of glass. At the end of the day when I told Tom the story about the man who wanted to buy it for $10, he was furious.
"We could have bought a pizza with that $10. Now I have to look at that useless piece of junk until the next time you decide to have a garage sale."
After that, I put it back on the shelf in the basement where it had been since we moved into the new house. Tom still threatened to make it disappear but I didn't think he would ever carry through with his threat.
Several years later, when I was attempting to reduce the clutter in our basement, I noticed there was an empty spot on the shelf where Aunt Margaret's Uterus had been stored. I immediately questioned my husband as to its whereabouts. He swore he had nothing to do with its disappearance. He was my main suspect because he was the one who spent the most time in the basement and he was the only one who had the motive to do away with it. I also interrogated my children. My daughter said she never noticed it was gone. My son acted suspicious, avoiding eye contact when I questioned him. His refusal to submit to a polygraph made me even more distrusting. He finally broke down and admitted to having parties in the basement while his father and I were on vacation, but he claimed nothing ever got broken except an old lamp. Both he and his father adamantly denied having anything to do with the demise of The Uterus. Its fate remains a mystery. After all those years of arguing over it, I never missed it until I discovered the void on the shelf that day. The space was quickly filled with another treasure I can't part with: two stuffed dogs that sing, "I Got You Babe." How can I get rid of this keepsake when my roommate from college gave it to me as a joke one Christmas?