The Junk Drawer of My Childhood

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What would happen if you sat down and started writing? Where do you think it would take you? Try this exercise. Grab a blank piece of paper. College-ruled with lines, white printer paper without lines—it doesn’t matter.

In your mind, walk into the kitchen or wherever it may be in your past, and open the junk drawer from your childhood home. Ignore the usual stuff scattered around. An ink pen here, some loose change there, maybe a rubber band, clothespin, or a hair clip. Open the drawer a little further. What’s the one item that sticks out, that you always picked up when you were seven or eight years old and fumbled around in your hands, turning over for a better view? With your pen or pencil, write what you see in the top left quadrant of your paper. Underneath, begin writing whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or complete sentences. Keep all the text in a single paragraph, no hard returns, so that your thoughts and the text itself flows and is not interrupted, even subconsciously. You can add paragraphs later.

For me, it’s a knife my dad owned. There was an engraved skull and crossbones on the handle, which was cast in ivory; from the blade tip to the ricasso, the length was three inches. I was fascinated by this knife, perhaps because I wasn’t supposed to play with it, but it was there in the kitchen junk drawer, an allure, and as a young boy, there’s nothing more fascinating than your dad’s knife, so I opened it and touched the tip always before I returned it to its rightful place. For all I knew then or even now, this knife was wholly un-unique, found in junk drawers nationwide, one of tens of thousands of identical commercially manufactured knives, but for me, as a child, this was a rare treasure that belonged only to my dad. Whenever my dad took me fishing at Granddaddy Duck’s pond, he would open the junk drawer to retrieve this knife before we left the house. Once at the pond, he would sit sideways in the driver’s seat with the door of his truck open and his legs perched on the edge of the metal step bumper, and remove the knife from his threadbare blue jean pants pocket and cut the fishing string the perfect length; as he did this, I would eye the ivory handle and the skull and crossbones and the silver blade in hopes that by studying it hard enough it would one day be mine, passed down to me, and I would hold it in my hands rightfully, not in secret.

And in thinking of this scene at the pond, and this, this is the beauty in writing down your thoughts, not just allowing your thoughts to reside in your mind only as if a passerby, how the memories start to gather on paper, the scent of my dad finds itself wafting in my nostrils. It was a scent you would call manly in a bygone era. My dad never wore deodorant when I was a kid, and it wasn’t until far later in life when he became a supervisor at the company where he worked that he started wearing deodorant. Once, when I was a teenager, when opening the medicine cabinet in my parents’ downstairs bathroom I saw deodorant in a green tube and thought how strange to see that there.

And then another thought enters, perhaps because now I stand, in my mind, in my parents’ downstairs bathroom, and so this thought I capture it, this moment in time, and I remember this well, it was a particular day my dad returned home from hunting. His jeans were covered in blood and deer guts and reeked further of sweat and body odor, pungent in every sense of the word, and he placed the blue jeans, folded with the legs inside and the waist visible, over the edge of the wicker clothes basket;[1] and so, my mom, as she thought helpful to do, took my dad’s grimy jeans, hung them from the fence post and sprayed them with the water hose in the backyard and then placed them in the wash by themselves with plenty of detergent to remove the stench. A few hours later, the pants hung freely on the clothesline in our backyard, collecting fresh air in the seams. Not long after, my dad took notice.

“Why are my hunting jeans on the line, Gwen?” my dad asked.

“Because they were disgusting,” my mom said. “They had blood and who knows what else on them.”

“The damn deer will smell me a mile away now with clean jeans. You can’t wear clean jeans in the woods if you want to kill a deer,” my dad continued, laying out his argument.

“Then you need to keep them in your truck or outside, because they can’t stay in the bathroom stinking up the whole downstairs,” my mom said.

***

With this simple exercise, opening the junk drawer from my childhood home, I was taken down a path of memories boxed and collecting dust in the far reaches of my mind I had long neglected; and it isn’t just the knife, the threadbare blue jeans my dad wore hunting, his disregard for deodorant that I remember. In the act of writing, other memories, not memories necessarily connected either, start to file in one-by-one, then push and shove vying for my attention. [2]

Perhaps for some of you, in the junk drawer from your childhood, it’ll be a red thimble of thread and some pins, and this will remind you of your mother repairing minor holes in your blue jeans, maybe a button on a shirt that popped off. How her hands were steady then, unlike when they began to shake before she learned of her diagnosis and life pivoted. If I were to look up, I, too, would see sewing needles pierced into the red and white checker patterned curtain overtop our sink. How many wood splinters were pulled from my or my sister’s feet with those sewing needles? An infinite amount.

To my left is a speckled bar top and the post closest to the door frame is splintered from where our cats used it daily to sharpen their claws: Nibbles, Muffy, and Gus, among others. How Gus hasn’t gotten her own story yet, I don’t know. Gus deserves her own story. I loved that cat. Did you ever love a cat like she were your best friend? What was her name?

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Notes

[1] Whenever I think of the fancy overpriced hunting gear and clothing that hunters seem to wear today, that hang with heavy price tags on the racks of sporting supply stores, I sort of laugh at how even hunting has turned into this marketable, highly profitable arena for consumerism, which seems so antithetical to the sport itself. My dad wore unwashed jeans {See 1.1} that, after this lesson taught to my mom, would stay that way for six to eight weeks at a time, long johns, an Arkansas Razorbacks sweatshirt {See 1.2}, and a green army jacket that had about as much insulation as a plastic grocery bag.

[1.1] According to science (read “Why Deer Hunters Should Never Wear Blue Jeans, and Other Important Facts About Deer Vision”), you’re not supposed to wear blue jeans hunting because of a deer’s color perception. My dad, CB call Mongoose, apparently the exception not the norm, never had much of a problem. He always found a way to kill the biggest, baddest deer in the area. Anywhere a mount could be found, my dad’s name was usually engraved in gold underneath.

[1.2] This was my dad’s lucky sweatshirt for some reason. Growing up, our family had zero connection to Arkansas. Not by former residence, kin, or college education. I think my dad just really loved the crazy looking wild boar on this particular red sweatshirt, and, after killing a couple of deer while wearing it, became an undeniable good luck charm in my dad’s wardrobe. I think my sister inherited this sweatshirt following my dad’s death, but I could be wrong.

[2] Bolts. Random key that opens who knows what door. What else? {See 2.1} Ah, matches in the junk drawer. Instantly, I am reminded of the matchbook collection my dad thought a good idea that came from Mike Foster’s dad in Phenix, Virginia. That’s an entire story unto itself, so I won’t go into that here at this time.

[2.1] A cheap imitation silver keychain from my dad’s excursion to Daytona Beach with a naked cartoonish looking man with an oversized erection that you could move and it would bend over a large breasted female in front of the man and simulate sex. I used to play with that keychain as much as my G.I. Joe’s. Sometimes Mama would find me playing with it and say, “Put that thing back in the drawer right now. I don’t know why your Daddy still has it.”

Photo. Cathy Calamas. “Junk Drawer.” Licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0

1 Comment

  1. Jeffrey Pillow, I had no idea how many childhood shoebox especially if memories you had actually collected until the other day!

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