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Sorry, George

September 18, 2011

army george

It all started out with a furnace. An improperly installed furnace, the one put in sixteen years ago in the addition to our house. We weren’t aware of this problem until the late night beeping of a recently installed carbon monoxide detector woke us up. The Public Service inspector who came told us the levels were high enough to have killed us had we not responded by opening the windows and calling them. This carbon monoxide situation could have occurred at any time, it seems, if the conditions were right, so we had to get a new furnace.

But this led to another unplanned result. In the process of clearing the necessary path in the cluttered disaster that is my basement for installers to get to the furnace, I came upon the many boxes of my father’s stamp collection. This prompted a long-delayed and often postponed decision: time for them to go.

This was hard for me. I don’t want to let go. I knew very well, and had for the many years that the collection sat in my house, that I would never tend to it properly as George had hoped, but the emotional attachment (and guilt) was too strong to do anything other than move it from one storage spot to the next, the last being their unceremonious depositing in the basement. My wife argued logically and ultimately successfully that a) they would get ruined eventually down there, b) I would never become an aficionado, and, checkmate, c) my father would rather have seen them go to someone who would appreciate them than have them rot away downstairs.

Deep sigh. I hauled to the car the many bags of albums, first day covers, cigar boxes overflowing with catalogued and partly catalogued loose stamps, and sheets of mint issues, all sheathed in the loving care which my father gave the collection that he and his brother had gotten from their father and to which he intended to devote his full attention in retirement. A stroke, however, short-circuited all his best-laid plans.

The assembled lot was brought to a very Nordic looking collector/dealer at Northland International Trading. He looked through all of the stuff, noting (rather cruelly, I thought, under the circumstances) that most of it was “junk,” and then delivered the final dagger in the form of money, shadowy images of Judas lurking in my head. I did salvage some items that had family history or sentimental value such as addressed envelopes from long dead relatives in Sweden and England. However, I left there with a very empty feeling.

A moral to the story? Probably not. It’s just change. Change, the eye of the storm that wreaks havoc upon one’s emotional weather. People enter our lives — change. People leave our lives — change. We get older — change. We move, we get different jobs, we watch the incomprehensible events of the world swirling around us — change. The minor events — the loss of my father’s beloved stamp collection — just serve to crystalize the inevitable and relentless nature of the beast. One starts with a bad furnace and ends with the parting of a piece of the past, of a father’s dream. One is playing, a carefree child in the park, and ends up sitting alone in his sixties reflectively mourning the loss of his father’s stamps.

My father captured this idea simply but profoundly one day late in his life. He said, “I look down and see these hands. They’re the hands of an old man. Then I realize that they’re mine.” Now it is I who find myself looking at my hands.

So, I’m sorry, George. Sorry that you never had the chance to finally do what you wanted after a life of hard work. Sorry that I was unable to take proper care of something so dear to you.

Sorry, George, but though it’s sometimes bitter, it’s just change.

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