I began losing my desire to accumulate the “stuff” of life when I moved to South Carolina. It was the third interstate move in ten years and I realized I had been hauling stuff from place-to-place with the idea I might someday need it, or want it, and not have it available. I was wrong.

Many of those boxes began their journey in West Virginia in 1995 and traveled to Florida, then to Illinois, and finally to South Carolina still unopened. It was in South Carolina that I found the courage to open the boxes, verify the contents marked on the outside, and then toss, shred, or donate what I found.

Most of the boxes held old business papers and outdated clothing. Three boxes served as the home to a complete Merlin® Phone system I once thought would have some future use. There was a box of glass, too, which might have been dishes somewhere along its travels.  There was nothing of sentimental value in those boxes. It was just stuff.

I am sentimental, though. In fact, my children often wager on how quickly a movie scene or a home video will bring that misty look to my eyes. They know me well. They know I treasure memories and not collections of trinkets or other physical things that serve no purpose other than to collect dust.

This is not to say that I don’t treasure some physical things. Old pictures—snapshots from my life—hold value for me because they connect me with my history visually, and I am a visual person. The same goes for family movies filmed on my dad’s old 8mm camera, or those videos holding captured moments of my kids in their childhood.

There are several other things I find meaningful, too, including, a few written recollections from my mom’s childhood, which she made time to write at my request before she died. Then there’s the antique secretary desk now sitting in my den, which once sat inside my maternal grandparent’s bedroom, to the left of the door, and was the place my grandfather once sat to pay his bills.

I’m quite fond of my maternal grandfather’s pocket watch, his pocketknife, and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos Clock he received in recognition of 25-years of service to Union Carbide Corporation. I also have my paternal grandfather’s Assistant Sergeant at Arms medals from the 1956 and 1964 Republican National Conventions, and that 8mm camera used to capture some of my childhood on film. Of course, there’s a rock here, a pressed flower there, and a few drawings from my children, too.

These things are small in number, but the memories they hold for me are quite large. While these things are important to me, I probably don’t need to hang on to them either. They’re just physical triggers for my memories. I would have a hard time parting with them, nonetheless.

Most everything else I possess, assuming it serves little or no functional purpose in my life, I no longer need. I’ve made up my mind to be more aggressive in purging these last remaining and unnecessary things I’m still hauling from place to place.

I will start by donating most of the many long-since read and some severely outdated books that line my bookshelves. I’ll move on to the clothes I’ll never wear again, the CD’s that have outlived their usefulness, and those few trinkets passed along to me whose meaning and importance died with their original owners. I’ll keep going until I get through all of the useless possessions, and then I’ll end, or at least I’ll try to end, by letting go of any remaining emotional baggage I have carried with me through the years. It’s time to let go of all of these things. It’s time to simplify the remainder of my life.

Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” I believe the corollary to the Law, “Stuff expands to fill the space you have available,” is also true. If you don’t believe me, look in your closet, your attic, or your basement and ask yourself just how much stuff you have stored there you still need.

I’ve taken a hard look at all my stuff, and I’ve come to this conclusion: I would rather new life experiences and memories become the “stuff” that expands to fill the time I have left on this earth. The accumulation of these experiences and the memories they create are the only “things” worth keeping or passing on.

The teacher, Miss McCabe, had pre-arranged us alphabetically by our last name and taped a tag with our full name on the front of our desks. She had been a teacher for a long time, and this must have been her method of quickly learning the names and faces of her new first grade students. When we came into the room, she asked us to find our names and take our seats. It was our first test, and few of us received a gold star.

Since I only lived a half-block from the elementary school, I was one of the first kids in the classroom on that day. I was already fidgeting in my seat when she brought Kevin to the desk in front of me and introduced us. As soon as he situated himself at his desk, he turned around, and we started talking. I liked him immediately.

I think we probably talked through the first two times Miss McCabe asked everyone to pay attention because I distinctly remember her standing in front of Kevin and looking down at us while we talked. He seemed to feel her presence and turned around slowly with a grin.

One of the first facts Miss McCabe taught us was how to pronounce the name of our school, “Tiskelwah” (the “l” is silent) and its origin—Native America or “Indian,” which was the word we used in 1969. Tiskelwah, she told us, was what the Indians called the nearby Elk River and it meant “river of fat elk” in English. I remember snickers and Kevin getting a case of the giggles over a school named for fat animals when others were named for presidents and famous leaders.

Kevin and I became fast friends and were often class partners. Our abilities were complimentary, and we worked well together. Kevin was athletic, and I was artistic, we naturally took relative roles in the winter talent show that year. My first girlfriend Karla and I sang, Here Comes Suzy Snowflake, while Kevin danced throughout the cafeteria in a snowman costume my mom and grandmother made for him. I can still clearly see Kevin skipping around that room to our song the laughter of the parents.

Kevin and I were in classes together almost all through elementary school. Tiskelwah was a small school with only one class per grade for the lower grades. In the upper classes, some teachers taught split grades because there weren’t enough students for a full class.

In the fall of 1972, Kevin and I were in Mrs. Downey’s third-grade class. We were working as a team again, and our assignment was to write a short story with four or more characters. We had a small reputation as cut-ups in class; not so much that it got us into trouble, but enough for us not to complete our work at times. For this assignment, we were running behind, and I invited Kevin to my house after school one day to so we could catch up. We worked for several hours on our detective saga, choosing the name “Jim Coldspot” as our investigator. We were not so creative when it came to names, and many characters were named from the appliances in my parent’s kitchen.

My dad left work most days by 4:30 PM and mom had dinner ready shortly after he got home at 5:00 PM. We were still working at the table when she came in to start dinner, so she asked Kevin if he would like to stay. He said he would, but he would have to call his mom to ask for her permission. Kevin called home, and I continued to work on the story. I looked up when Kevin handed my mom the phone.

“She wants to talk to you, Mrs. Harkins,” he said.

My mom picked took the phone and listened for a moment, and then she said, “No. It’s okay. It’s really no problem. All right. Bye.”

As she hung up the phone, she told Kevin, “Your mom said you could stay for dinner, but you need to come home right afterward.”

Kevin and I danced around the kitchen. Such little things made us happy.

We remained close friends throughout elementary school. We spent one year in the same junior high, and then my family moved across town. Kevin and I saw each other as frequently as we could; many times, he would stay the night, which gave us more time to catch up. Our parents became friends, too, getting together on occasion.

In high school, Kevin became a big track and field star in our town. I watched his press and cheered him on from a competitive school. I lost track of Kevin after high school, but I thought of him from time to time.

Over the years, we’ve managed to stay in touch, as we were able. When I got married in 1984, Kevin was at my wedding. In the spring of 1988, Kevin called me to tell me he was getting married and asked me to photograph his wedding. We lost touch again for some years, but the Facebook explosion brought us back together. Even though I haven’t seen him in person for more than 20 years, I consider Kevin, a brother and would do anything for him.

At almost forty-three years, this friendship with Kevin is my longest continuing friendship. In 1969, it was an unlikely friendship in our hometown because Kevin is African American and parts of West Virginia were still in the heat of the civil rights movement at that time.

Many years later, my mom and I were talking about my friendship with Kevin, and she told me about her phone call with Kevin’s mom the night of his first dinner invitation. My mom recalled that Kevin’s mom was concerned about him staying because “many white people don’t want colored people in their homes.”

I’m thankful my parents were never “those kind” of white people.

Photo Credit: Tiskelwah Elementary School. Kanawha County Library Archives.

She was four at the time, full of energy and excitement about the world around her. She was at my side constantly, often asking questions well beyond her years. At times, her insights made me forget how young she was and often caused me to have unreasonable expectations of her abilities.

Of all my children, she is the one who has inherited the more complete package of my traits. Her inquisitive nature, quick wit, vivid imagination, and impulsive leanings are a near match for mine, and something I began to notice when she was four. I knew then these were also the traits that would cause conflict between us later in life.

We were living in northern Florida at the time, and the summer heat had finally retreated for another year, giving way to pleasant fall evenings perfect for leisurely strolls through the neighborhood. Our house was in an older part of the city, and our street wound its way by the St. Johns River. There were places along the circle where friendly neighbors living on the river opened their docks for fishing or quiet evenings of watching the Manatee at play.

She loved to walk with me around the neighborhood. It gave us a chance to talk about things that were on her mind, but mostly I think it was so that she could have some private time with me. She didn’t like the idea of her older sister or baby brother joining us on these walks. She saw this as our time and practically broke down in tears when others wanted to tag along.

With dinner out of the way and dusk coming one evening, I called to her from the kitchen to ask if she wanted to join me on a quick trip around the circle. She came running from the family room, sliding across the kitchen floor in socks and stopping just before me.

“Yes! Let me go put on my super-fast shoes,” she said.

Super-fast shoes? What are super-fast shoes, I thought as she raced to her bedroom. In less than a minute she was back at my side wearing a new pair of Nike® sneakers my mom had given her and that ever-present Barney® cap, worn backward. She looked up at me and smiled.

“See this thing on the side of my shoes, dad? That means these shoes are super fast,” she explained.

She grabbed my hand and pulled me to through kitchen door. She raced down the driveway, and when I caught up, we began our walk. In her super-fast shoes, she would run ahead for a while to explore, then run back to grab my hand and ask me questions, or to bring me things she had discovered a few feet away, or to tell me where she would like to go next as we moved around the circle.

Super-fast shoes have taken her many places as she has grown up. I know there are times when those shoes took her faster than she was ready to go, but she still managed to figure out how to make the speed of travel work to her advantage in the long run. She still does. She makes great memories, and she doesn’t seem to live too much of her life in the blur that I thought those shoes would create.

Since she put on that first pair of super-fast shoes, she’s been moving much faster than I would like to see her go through life. Even so, with each new adventure and no matter how far she runs out in front of me, she always comes back to share her world and brings with it the same wide-eyed excitement she had at four.