There was a tree-demolishing windstorm in my Montreal borough last week, but it was a zephyr beside the summer long in-house hurricane known as my wife.
She has been wreaking a clearing and cleaning path since mid-June, making landfall in the overcrowded slum of our laundry room just before the solstice, then churning her way up the coast with lightning speed toward the densely-packed districts of the garage.
We have all seen video footage of cars and cows being heaved Heavenward by the sheer power of a tornado, but I believe I am the solitary witness to the force of nature that is a five-foot tall French Canadian woman tossing boxes and bric-a-brac over her head toward the open door.
In the chorus of the Jimi Hendrix classic from the Summer of Love, "the wind cries Mary." In my household this summer, The Hurricane howls: "Old! Useless! Out!" You will appreciate the many nerve-wracking moments when I wondered how long it would before I, too, was lifted and deposited firmly on the curb.
So far, the time-honoured strategy of retreating to the basement and hiding there has preserved me. I even managed to sneak a cardboard container of cherished memories past the flashing eyes of the storm, and have been amusing and consoling myself by exploring its mysteries a little at a time.
The overarching mystery, of course, is why in the name of the TV show Hoarders I kept so many insanely useless objects for so long. How insanely useless, you ask? Try this: if you should ever need to know the exact speaking order of the candidates at the founding convention of the Canadian Reform Alliance Party (yes, that's what it was initially called), well sir, I am your Huckleberry. I kept the documents.
There are items of even deeper mysteriousness. I pulled from the box a white neckerchief bearing delicate blue script that says: Stop Bill 31. I have absolutely no idea what Bill 31 was, though Wikipedia tells me it could variously refer to a 1985 bill to amend the Indian Act, a 2007 bill to amend the federal Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, or a 2012 bill to amend the Immigration System Act. In one white cloth scarf, inscrutable archeological conundrums are raised:
- Which Stop Bill 31 scarf do I have?
- Why did people think wearing a white scarf with blue writing would magically contribute to stopping Bill 31?
- Why did I feel compelled to store this unidentifiable and utterly unremarkable fragment of history in a box on a shelf in my garage some unknown number of years ago?
No less confounding are the several kilograms of old magazines that form the cellulose sedimentary layer of my safekeeping. Did I genuinely believe, at some point in my life, that I would at long last read Dennis Drabelle's review of Gordon A. Craig's book on Theodore Fontane in the October, 2000 issue of the Atlantic Monthly? Or did I think that, eventually, there would be a compelling need to revisit Pedro C. Moreno's "Rapture and Renewal in Latin America" in my June/July 1997 copy of First Things? (Given the provenance of the current pope, there may well be reason to revisit it, though I haven't gotten around to it—mainly because I didn't know it was there until yesterday.)
These are but two of the questions that float to the surface the deeper I dig into my mystery box. Partial answers—or blame—might arise from both conservatism and journalism.
I am, in general, conservative. Conservatives conserve and that necessarily means preserving Tradition in the midst of a midden. I have also spent my adult life as a journalist, and journalists must hold onto relics in the fond hope the objects will some day truly seem part of something terribly important. To abandon such hope is to acknowledge that a lifetime spent chasing daily foolishness represents a chronicle of wasted time.
In his magnificent memoir Chronicles of Wasted Time, the great British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge has a stunning paragraph about finding an old yellow clipping of his and being unable to recall any of the principals in it—or why it was so urgent to shout down the phone line to a sub-editor at his newspaper about their activities. Years on, he realizes, it all seems so ephemeral because . . . it was.
Or as the psalmist says: "As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more."