The Book of Knowledge, 47 volumes in a mildewed cardboard box. I had no option but to throw it out: it was 30 years out of date, and not a collectable item like the 1910 Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica that shared the glass-door barrister bookcase. It wouldn’t do my kids any good in 1980, but these books had been dear companions when I was a kid. I would search the spines to decide which new subject I could bury myself in if I couldn’t find a playmate or to block out Mom and Dad’s arguments. Several elementary school projects were based on information I found there.
The volumes were heavy; it took three armloads to trudge them to the growing trash pile. They would be useless for a garage sale. A friend of mine wanted the 1910 Encyclopedia, with its essays by the giants of the new century: William and Henry James, Swinburne, Muir, Huxley, and Rossetti. All that intellectual thought, with the maps and boundaries and monarchies taking their tattered last bows before the turmoil of World War I tore through both playbill and audience.
We sold the bookcase through Freeman Antiques. It brought a good price. The wood was almost black with years of wax polish. It had sat near the front door in our little living room on Sedgewick Street near a secretary desk. With this and the upright piano, I guess visitors thought we were cultured, but we weren’t. I can’t recall anyone reading to me as a kid, even from my sister’s Honey Bunch books, not very different from the Dick and Jane books.
When I was about six years old I opened our front door and stepped onto a swarm of termites boiling up from under that bookcase on the wood floor. I screamed and ran behind a chair to hide, leaving the door open. Just then Mom came back from Keiter’s grocery, and I kept
crying “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it” as she walked in. How did all those bugs get there? Did they follow me?
This massive infestation developed right beneath, in Dad’s big workbench in the basement. It took a long time for me to understand that it was not my fault.
Other items that we removed from the garage included musty boxes of saved screws, nuts, bolts, nails, and rusted old tools; pieces of moulded wood or coping; a box of broken crayon pieces from my childhood; a pane of window glass wrapped in flaking yellowed newspaper dated 1933—everything preserved for “just in case.”
My husband and I were clearing out my parents’ house because my mother had moved my dad to a nursing home and herself to an apartment. The house was up for sale. Neither my brother nor my sister wanted this responsibility, and I was local. Besides, they were my parents, and I believed I had a duty to care for them. To pay them back for my upbringing. That is what a child does. It’s what I did, because in my family, in my entire life, I have been “The Fixer.”
* * *
The dictionary that came with my Mac laptop defines a “fixer” as a person who makes arrangements for other people, especially of an illicit or devious kind. As a kid I arranged things so Dad could avoid or work through confrontations with my mother, and I resettled him into a reliable nursing home. He poured his bouts of despair into my ears from the time I was ten until he died, and when his body gave up on him, I was the one who gave the doctor permission to withhold all but palliative treatment. I knew it was the “final solution,” but I was the only one who cared enough to give him some relief.
As a kid I listened to my sister’s despair and worried over my brother, though I couldn’t assist them personally either then or as an adult. I financially supported my husband Tony and our family while he finished his undergraduate and graduate studies and when his compensated work was sporadic. Together we worked the art and crafts circuit, setting up and breaking down tents and booths and spending long hours at our displays. When post-polio syndrome removed his control over his legs, I assisted his shift to full-time use of a wheelchair and then worked out an agreement with my brother so we could move to a snow-free accessible environment.
When my daughter became involved with a string of abusive men in her early adulthood, I was there, often physically but always emotionally and frequently financially. I diverted a small monthly pension payment to her and her son while she went to a vocational school after her divorce, and together with my husband helped to raise our grandson when she worked night shifts for several years.
And as a copy editor for 50 years, I have fixed hundreds of manuscripts and proofs.
Now I need to fix me: writing for myself, learning what I missed in school, and helping us survive a revival of fascism in a society whose decisions I cannot understand.
* * *
Tony and I held a garage sale for much of my parents’ stuff. After a whole day, we had amassed only $160.
I have no passion for antiquing.