Lilies and Car Tags

We are having our first warm days since last fall. I bike amid greenery, my wheels afloat, winter’s gray defeated by color.

I’m selling my car tag collection on Ebay. Between Ebay and Craig’s List, I’ve sold seventy items this year—two air purifiers, some tap dance shoes, a $450 backpack, a Champion Juicer, a climbing helmet; all stuff that weighed on me. But then all that I own weighs on me; it’s just a matter of what I’m ready to let go of. Right now, my father’s potted lily is in the driveway waiting for a passerby to give it a new home. If he had bequeathed me a compact cactus, I would have been okay, but his lily has all the exuberance of a Walt Whitman poem, and I never wanted it. For the fourteen years since he died, it has resided on a table in the den making it impossible for Peggy and me to see one another when we watch TV. A thousand times, I’ve wanted to get rid of it. Now I am. Maybe. My father’s lily defines my relationship with the things I own.

Louisiana car tags from the fifties and sixties bring up to $80. Alabama does well too, but Mississippi tags often fall short of Ebay’s 99¢ minimum. I’ve written a couple of times to a man in my hometown of Brookhaven, a man I met on Ebay. He collects Mississippi tags, and I tell him he’s lucky, because he can get them cheap. It’s better to treasure things that no one else wants. When I was a boy, I collected model horses, and would look through store shelves for any that had broken legs. I wasn’t trying to save money—I didn’t even know I could save money—I just knew that no one else would want them.

I have a molasses jar full of Pacific Ocean beach sand that I bought at an estate sale in Minnesota. The jar was filled on Friday, July 25, 1952 (according to the writing), and I bought it because I knew that it would be thrown out. I verified this by returning to the sale when it was closing.

I once thought that I would be happier if I didn’t own so much. Now, I’m not sure; I just know I feel lighter, because ownership—at least of the nonessentials—represents slavery. Peggy and I spent a summer in Fresno where she worked as a traveling nurse. We only took with us the things that would fit inside our Ford Tempo. One of my fondest memories of that summer is of only owning one kitchen knife (a Buck hunting knife that a brother-in-law had given me). Since it was only one knife, I kept it on the countertop, and, since it was our only knife, I kept it sharp. That was a tough summer in that we had no idea which direction our lives were about to take, us so I can’t say that it was a happy summer overall, but I smile when I remember the joy of owning so little.

Peggy loves to own things, and the only thing that tortures her about them is the fear that someone might steal them. I worry about this too. I even hate to leave on vacation, because I worry about something happening to Peggy’s button collection. I worry about Peggy’s buttons more than Peggy does, because protecting Peggy and her stuff is my responsibility. Also, she uses her button hobby to shield herself somewhat from the evil of the world, and I don’t know how she would fare if that evil stole them. I don’t even know if a thief would want her buttons. I’ve gone back and forth about the matter, and my conclusion is that I can’t say he would want them, but then again I can’t say he wouldn’t.

Dad’s lily is gone. I was happy when I noticed it missing, but then I saw it on the porch next door. I don’t think it will be happy there because of the dry summer winds, so I don’t feel like I have gotten rid of it after all. I might ask for it back.