My Old Stuff

It was a beautiful day in town with so much to see and do. Any outdoor seat could have guaranteed great people watching, but on an early spring day like this, walking and window-shopping were in order.

I strolled past the front window of a nearby antique shop. Sunlight reflected in a hundred directions as it struck crystal glasses lined along a shelf. The rainbow of sparkles caught my eye so I stopped to look. My mother has glasses like these, I thought. On a shelf below was a huge punch bowl. Also similar to hers.

Staring at these pieces reminded me of a conversation I once had with a coworker. A pre-virus, in-person discussion, long before Zoom meetings replaced water-cooler chats. My office was just down the hall from Karen’s.

I glanced in her door on my way to the copier and she motioned to me frantically. Hardly looking up from her computer, her hand waved me towards her desk. She was breathing heavily.

“Isn’t this antique Italian walnut burl carved armoire beautiful?” she asked.

What?” I wasn’t even sure what language she was speaking.

She shoved the monitor in my direction, pointed at the screen, and waited for me to be awed.

“Oh.” I said. “A wardrobe.”

You have one?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“No, but I have a cedar wardrobe that was my great-grandmother’s.” I answered.

“Of course.” She frowned as she slid the monitor back towards herself. “I love proper antiques.”

“I like old stuff too.” I left for the copier.

I have plenty of old stuff. Not just old, but meaningful. Each piece belonged to someone in my family and was passed down and down again until landing with me. Most aren’t valuable in dollars, but each has a story. When I look at them, I imagine the person who touched them, used them, and whether they ever imagined that a hundred years later a relative would be grateful to have them.

The fancy Italian armoire that Karen panted over was pretty, but it meant nothing to me. I would rather have my great-grandmother’s simple cedar wardrobe than all of Italy’s armoires. Then again, I don’t know antiques. I only know my old stuff.

Some weeks later, I invited coworkers over for Friday night pizza. Karen was the first to say yes.

“I’ll get to see your armoire!” she squealed.

“It’s a wardrobe.” I reminded.

“Of course.” Karen said.

Friday evening arrived and with plates full of pizza, we launched into small talk and office gossip. Everyone, that is, but Karen. She was only interested in inspecting my wardrobe.

“What a fabulous vintage mid-century cedar wardrobe!” Karen felt obliged to confirm. She smiled her approval, and then suddenly looked down at her feet.

“Wait. This appears to be an American folk art style hooked rug, likely from the 1930s.” She leaned down for a closer look and glanced up at me. “Did you pick it up from a specialty shop?”

“No, I picked it up from my mother’s hallway.” I laughed. “I told my mother I liked it so she rolled it up and gave it to me. It previously belonged to my grandmother who decades earlier rolled it up and gave it to her.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

She eyed the small table in my hallway. “What an absolutely beautiful mahogany telephone table. And matching chair!” she noticed. “Did you find them at an auction?”

“No, I found them in my grandmother’s spare room. She used them for decades and always told us grandkids about the funny things she’d overhear while making phone calls back when party lines were common.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

The show-and-tell process continued as Karen moved from room to room examining my old stuff. She finally stopped in front of the rusty handheld pruning shears I kept on a shelf. This time she didn’t make a guess or even comment. She simply pointed at the shears and waited.

“Oh.” I took my cue. “They were my grandmother’s and I keep them to remember her love of gardening.”

Karen actually smiled. “Does everything have a story?”

“Of course.” I said.

We rejoined the pizza party and later as people began their goodbyes, talk turned to weekend plans. Somewhere in the chatter, Karen was asked if she would hit the antique shops in the morning, her well-known Saturday routine.

“No.” Karen tapped her chin with her forefinger. “I have enough of those.”  

The room fell silent in disbelief.

She looked towards the rusty old pruning shears as she spoke again.

“What I need is some old stuff.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Alexandria Living – “The Future is Up to You”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in the current issue of Alexandria Living magazine!

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it is especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living. If you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space they provide just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/the-future-is-up-to-you/

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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One Man’s Trash

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.” Mama said over her shoulder as she washed a plate and arranged it with others in the rack.

I was just a kid, so didn’t ask why I couldn’t have it. I dropped the rusty key back into the drawer and watched it disappear between a crushed matchbook and a small ball of frayed string.

When I was little, the drawer by the refrigerator was a forbidden mystery. The clanking sounds made as Mama or Daddy dug around in there were so intriguing. Finally tall enough to open it myself, I spent a few minutes running my hand through the odd assortment of things it contained. If Mama wouldn’t let me have the rusty key, I didn’t dare ask about the torn business card, the bent thumb tack, or the random assortment of colored bread ties. They must really be valuable.

Years passed before I opened the drawer again. Although it was directly beside the refrigerator, which I opened often, the drawer went mostly unnoticed. When I did open it again, I was taller and could peer even further into its mysterious depths. I fished out a cracked cigarette lighter with half a crayon stuck to it, the words “Burnt Umber” still visible on the fragile paper. Tucked behind the microwave’s yellowing owner’s manual was a pair of broken sunglasses. With a questioning look, I held them in the air as Mama came in from the grocery store.

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.” She maneuvered around me to put milk in the refrigerator.

I looked in the drawer several times over the years, at first to ease my curiosity but later to laugh and wonder how the collection of random items spent decades in that sliding time capsule without becoming trash. I never saw anything missing and rarely saw anything added other than a corroded AAA battery, an occasional rubber band, or the cracked cap of a long-gone ballpoint pen.

I vowed never to have a drawer like that.

Years later in my own home, I hung pictures one afternoon. When done, rather than put away the extra nails, I lazily dropped them into the drawer by my own refrigerator. I giggled when I realized the number of bread ties and shoelaces already taking up space there. Sometime later I lost the key to a small lock. Thinking I’d eventually find it, I put the lock into the drawer for safekeeping. When my daughter’s doll lost a hand, I put it in the drawer along with the tiny tire from one of my son’s toy cars. I knew they’d be safe there with the dried up glue stick and a feather.

As my kids grew older and taller, they discovered my drawer. They caught me off guard the day they asked to play with a broken wristwatch dug from its contents.

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.” I heard myself say.

I was puzzled by my parents’ junk drawer but more puzzled by my own. Why do we keep odd bits of trash? I had locks with no keys, keys to no locks, and actually struggled one day before throwing away a peppermint I found stuck to a cracked shoehorn.

My kids are grown now and I used to wonder whether they would collect various bits of invaluable debris like the rest of us. I stopped wondering the day I rode in my son’s car. As he drove, I looked in the glove compartment for a napkin. While rifling through crumpled receipts, a lone sock, and several packs of petrified chewing gum, something fell out and hit my leg.

I reached down to pick up the eraser-less end of a broken pencil.

“Well you can definitely throw this away”. I laughed. My son wasn’t laughing, but did have a slight grin as he spoke.

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Motherwell Magazine – “Perfect Fit”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in Motherwell Magazine!

Motherwell is an online publication that tells all sides of the parenting story, with original content on family life, culture, obstacles and the process of overcoming them. 

Below is the link to my piece on their Facebook page. If you like, please comment on their Facebook page just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Motherwell Magazine – “Dumb Little Dish”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have an essay appearing in Motherwell Magazine!

Motherwell is an online publication that tells all sides of the parenting story, with original content on family life, culture, obstacles and the process of overcoming them. 

Below is the link to my piece on their Facebook page. If you like, please comment there just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

39 Comments

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Just Some Vanilla

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I had another essay appear in Alexandria Living magazine!

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it is especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living. If you like, please comment on the magazine website just below the essay itself.

We love the feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/perkins-just-some-vanilla/

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Tasty Truth

My daughter is an intelligent, funny, beautiful young lady. Only in her twenties, she already has a husband and a two year old son. On a recent phone call, as we discussed her fast-paced sales job, I was reminded that I wasn’t talking to my little girl anymore. Where did the tiny kid go I used to carry in my arms? I stopped mid-sentence and made a wistful comment about her being so grown up.

“Will you always think of me as a five year old?” she sighed. I could almost hear her rolling her eyes.

“Yes Baby Doll.” I answered, calling her the name I’ve called her since the days I carried her in my arms.

Even as a five year old, she was outgoing and curious. She sometimes asked questions that forced me, I felt, to come up with the tiniest of white lies. I wanted to shield her from the harsher realities of life for as long as I could. How dare anything ruin her happy, innocent world?

For instance, the time she asked why the raccoon was lying, belly-up, on the side of the road. I told her it was napping and I rolled up the window before she questioned the odor. And who could fault me for saying our goldfish was practicing the backstroke the day it floated lifelessly at the top of the tank? Or the time she saw two lewd Labradors lost in the throes of passion. Clearly, they were just playing leapfrog. I ushered her into the house.

I didn’t want her innocent mind tainted by such things and I found myself constantly on guard for realities I might need to filter. However, I was off my game the day the chicken truck pulled up beside us at a red light.

A few miles past where we lived at the time were huge chicken farms. Periodically, trucks loaded with live chickens traveled down a major road near our house. I’d made illegal U-turns several times just to avoid them. I couldn’t imagine what I would say if she ever asked about those trucks full of caged chickens being hauled to their deaths. I was always on watch.

Except that day.

I hadn’t noticed that it was an actual chicken truck when it stopped beside me. I was aware that a vehicle was there, but nothing prompted me to look over until I reached to change the radio station. That’s when something floated down and landed on my windshield. A feather.

Chickens!” I gasped.

As I glanced over, afraid to confirm, I noticed my daughter in the back seat looking intently through her window. Just feet away from her little face were hundreds of white chickens crammed into metal cages. Feathers floated everywhere. I can still see my daughter’s wide eyes as she stared at the sight.

I stopped looking at her, whirled around to face forward, and prayed for a green light. It remained agonizingly red. I thought maybe she wouldn’t ask anything.

Silly me.

“Daddy?” I heard the sweet little voice.

This was it. Please let me think of a good one.

“Yes?” I answered, willing the light to turn green. It didn’t.

“Is that what chicken nuggets look like before we eat them?” She pushed her face against the window for a better look.

I couldn’t think of anything to say. I had no idea she even knew chicken nuggets came from chickens. She obviously didn’t pay attention the day I told her they were made by nugget elves.

Well, she was five. I guessed it was time she started processing some of those realities I’d kept from her. I couldn’t avoid this one. She was staring at a truckload of misery and there was no way I could save her. I nearly teared up as I resigned myself to the answer.

“Yes, Baby Doll.” I said gently. “That’s what chicken nuggets look like before we eat them.” I gripped the steering wheel, stared at the stubborn red light, and waited for her to wail at the awful truth. I kept waiting.

Finally, she spoke.

“Mmmm!” she said with a huge grin. “I love chicken meat!”

The light turned green.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Stew Day

This is a repost of a piece I wrote a few years ago. Since today is Labor Day, precisely the sort of cool, clear, late summer morning when we would make Brunswick stew, I wanted to put it out there again.

My morning walk took me by our local farmers market. It was a lively scene as vendors slid from trucks, stretched, and waved to others setting up for the day. I watched as a hardworking woman spread out ears of corn alongside boxes of huge tomatoes and I was reminded of summers back home when it seemed everything in the garden ripened at once. Our piles of tomatoes, squash, butter beans and other vegetables rivaled any farmers market.

Mounds of homegrown produce also meant it was time for a Brunswick stew…

I was an adult before I realized just how fortunate I was to grow up the way I did. My grandparents had a small farm and had given each of their children a bordering piece of land on which to build their homes. My grandparents’ farmhouse and the huge garden worked by our families were the focal points for us all. I grew up surrounded by best friends – who happened to be my cousins.

From my backyard I could look across garden, field, or pasture to see a cousin on the swing set, an uncle on the tractor, or my grandmother Nannie under the apple tree by the well as she emptied a bucket of just picked tomatoes onto an old metal table. With so much ripe and ready at once, it was time for the stew.

It was exciting to wake up to the faint smell of wood smoke coming from across the field. Daddy and the uncles would have gathered early to start a fire beneath the huge cast iron stew pot. It was no stove-top pot. That thing could easily hold two small kids and a cousin and I proved that once during a game of hide-and-seek… By the time we kids showed up on the morning of the stew, the fire was at perfect peak, gallons of water were boiling, and Nannie, Mama and the aunts had readied the meat and cut up vegetables from the garden.

For the next several hours we kids would play – usually as close to the fire as we could without getting fussed at – while Mama and the aunts scurried back and forth between kitchen and the boiling stew. Daddy and the uncles would talk and take turns stirring the stew with what appeared to be the oar from a sizeable dingy. As a kid I remember thinking how interesting it was that Mama and the aunts were in charge of family cooking all year long, but on stew day Daddy and the uncles took over. I think they just wanted to play with the fire.

Even today I have no idea what stew recipe was used, the proportion of ingredients, or how long and how often the boat oar needed to be swirled around the giant pot. I do remember that timing seemed to be everything and there was generally great debate over several major points: Time for the corn, no add the butter beans first, is the meat already in, should we add more water, have the tomatoes cooked down, add salt, don’t add salt, get that oak leaf out that just fell in, and on and on.

Hours later, after being properly talked over and paddled, the stew was ready. It was always good, but with Nannie’s homemade rolls alongside, it was even better. Naturally we washed it all down with sweet tea.

As I walked back home after passing the farmers market I thought about all of the family stews we had in the past and how long it had been since I’d had any “real” stew. When I got home I checked my kitchen cabinets. I did have one can of store-bought Brunswick stew. It might be ok, but I’m certain it won’t be as good as the “real” stuff. I don’t know if it was the fresh vegetables, the boat oar, or the occasionally fallen oak leaf in the pot that made those stews so memorable.

I imagine it was more likely the fact that each time I ate “real” stew I was surrounded by laughing aunts and uncles, Nannie in her apron, and a gang of cousins. All gathered there under a tree with bowls of stew in our laps, a roll in one hand, and a glass of sweet tea in the other.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Chesapeake Bay Magazine – “It’s What We Do”

A little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have an essay appearing in the current issue of Chesapeake Bay Magazine!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and having enjoyed time at the bay my whole life, it was especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Chesapeake Bay Magazine.

It’s What We Do

Thanks again to all who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Alexandria Living Magazine – “Between the Rings”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in the current issue of Alexandria Living magazine!

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it is especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living. If you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space they provide just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/between-the-rings/

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

37 Comments

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