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Posted August 14, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Roger Barbee: One day our treasures will rot, rust and disappear

By Roger Barbee

This Saturday morning -- Aug. 10 -- is heavy with two things -- clouds and traffic. The clouds have moved in as if to stay for the day, and the traffic out on The Pike has definitely moved in for the day. Yet, why not, it is Yard Crawl day and it appears that no slight drizzle will cancel this all important day of looking for more stuff.

Me? As guilty as the next person, but I wonder...

The great Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf tells the story of a young prince who is looking for a way to make his mark as a warrior and leader. We follow Beowulf on his life journey and see how he wins approval of his tribe and other tribes by acts of bravery and wisdom to become a well-respected leader who must, after years of peace and prosperity, battle one more foe as an old man.

The lesson of this poem is given in an elegy describing a hoard of treasures left by a last survivor of a warrior band, and it is this treasure that indirectly is the cause of Beowulf's death. As he places the treasures in a cave by the sea, the warrior says, "Take these treasures, earth, now that no one/Living can enjoy them. They were yours, in the beginning:Allow them to return." Later, Beowulf is forced to battle the fierce dragon that guards the gold cups, jeweled swords, helmets for battle, and the accumulated wealth of this lost band.

This week when our first tomatoes came in, I remembered the importance of those staples of past summers when I was a college student working in a cotton mill. Every day before going to work my shift, I made two tomato sandwiches with thick slices of garden-fresh tomatoes, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, all piled between two pieces of white bread. Both sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper and placed in a #2 brown lunch bag.

After devouring them at work, the wax paper was folded and placed in the bag, both to be used again, usually for at least a week. I was not the only male seen walking out of the mill after a shift of work with a brown bag protruding from a hip pocket -- to save and re-use was a way of life. The females carried theirs out in a purse, but mine fit that hip pocket just fine.

As I sit at my desk on this wet, humid morning and look over at the traffic slowly climbing the hill on The Pike from Red Banks, each vehicle with folks looking for a "good spot" where some good stuff can be had for a good price, I think of Beowulf and tomato sandwiches.

As a boy, I was taught to save any item and re-use it. My family and the others I lived near kept lids, jars, pieces of metal, bent nails, pieces of wood, screws, scraps of cloth, worn out socks that could not be patched any more, pieces of wire -- it seems that we kept any item for use later in some unknown way. No, waxed paper was not as good at keeping sandwiches fresh, but it worked well enough as did the #2 bag. It was what we had, and we made the best of it. But today it seems to this observer that none of us keep any item for later use. We just discard it and get a new one. We have large box stores that gladly sell us new while telling us that the old is not worth repairing. And over my lifetime it seems we have become a culture of stuff -- we collect things as if our collection will make us happy.

It is this day of the Yard Crawl that causes me to think of how we accumulate stuff. Yes, I know many people and charities depend on the Crawl for money. But 40 miles of it? Is that necessary or even healthy? The next time you are out and about the county, count the number of storage facilities and imagine the amount of stuff they hold.

The aged warrior in Beowulf knew. No matter what we earn and have on this earth, one day we will be gone and our earthly treasures will rot, rust, or in some other manner, disappear. My precious book collection is only, in the end, ink on paper held together by thread or glue. It, too, will one day return to earth. It is, after all, just more stuff.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.

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