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  Texas : Features : Columns : "The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything"

Packrat

by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal

The thing is that you just never know what you are going to need or when you will need it. Thatís the problem. Suppose you are fixing the car. You find that all you need is six inches of wire. You donít have it and so you will have to go and buy some. Except that your car is not running. Because it needs some wire. Which you donít have.

If, however, you are a packrat you will have the wire. You will have little bits of wire of many different lengths and many different gauges. You will also have string and nuts and bolts and mason jars and bread ties and coffee cans and clock radios whose electronics have been removed and the cardboard tubes from 19 years worth of Christmas wrapping paper because they really look like they would be good for something.

I probably started with the car and garage scenario in a desperate attempt to sound superior, to make it sound like a masculine malady. But there are just as many female packrats as male, and I guess I am one of them. I have thought about this subject a lot, every time I walk into our garage as a matter of fact, and have decided that there are two kinds of packrats: optimists and pessimists.

My husband is an optimistic packrat. He is not a packrat because he cannot bear to throw anything away. No. He is a packrat because he is able to look at some little bit or piece of something which is apparent trash and see potential. He knows that things break and he knows that he can fix them. He knows that to do this he will often need just a little bit or piece of something. He also believes in the future and thinks that someday we might go camping again or want to build a kite or that he will finally and at last have time to compose a wonderful tune on the Moog synthesizer he has been toting about since 1972.

I am the pessimistic variety of packrat. I know that things will be ticking along just fine in life and then something will happen. You just never know what it will be or when it will come or what you will need when it does happen. I have a drawer in the linen cabinet which is brim full of things that might come in handy. There are ponytail holders even though I have not had hair long enough to use them for a decade. You never know. You might need a ponytail holder for a little tiny tourniquet or something. There are about 35 bottles and tubes which each contain a teaspoon or two of some type of cream or lotion or sun screen. Because you just never know.

It gets more embarrassing. I have two underwear drawers. I have a drawer full of underwear which I would not be ashamed to be seen in if I ended up in an emergency room or was at the bank and a robber made us all strip down to our skivvies. Because you never know when something like that might happen. And then I have a drawer full of underwear which I would certainly not like to be seen in, but which actually still have some wear in them if you are not too particular. My mother used to use old underwear for dust rags. Not me. I keep it safe and sound in itís very own drawer. I donít know why. I mean, you might keep that old, worn and stained pair of jeans to wear when painting or refinishing furniture, but in my entire life I have never done any job which involved such a mess that it ruined my underpants. But someday I might. You just never know.

I canít explain this compulsion of mine to hang on to the rag tag ends of used up and worn out things. But I do know that if some catastrophe strikes the lotion manufacturers of the world and puts them all out of business, I wonít look so kooky then, hmmm? Or if there is a big disaster and someone hollers at me to get a handful of clean soft rags, Iíll be glad then, wonít I? And even though I am mostly the pessimistic variety of packrat, I canít help thinking that the day might come when my doorbell will ring and I will open the door to find Monty Hall there offering me ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS for every pair of raggedy old underpants I own. Hope he brings his checkbook!


© Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
"The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything" March 6, 2008 Column

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