by Toni L.P. Kelner / Leigh Perry
We've all heard that one man's trash is another man's treasure, and that became really obvious to me recently when most of my family converged upon my father's house in Charlotte, NC for a cleanup process we dubbed the Big Dig. Daddy's health is precarious enough that his doctor said he really shouldn't live alone, and my sister Robin and her husband Tony volunteered to move in with him to help out. The house was theoretically big enough for them to have plenty of space and privacy, but between the theory and the fact were forty years' worth of accumulated stuff.
That stuff had to be gone through, sorted, divided up among family members, and in many cases, thrown into a tractor-trailer-sized dumpsters. And along the way, I found some things that mean a lot to me. None of them are valuable, and might be that one man's trash, but they're treasures to me.
For instance, back when I was 10 or so, Robin gave me a birthday present that I adored, but I thought it was long gone. But buried in a dresser drawer, I found this:
That's real china, baby! In the original box, not a piece broken. Even the yellow plastic spoons are original, present, and accounted for. True, the set could use a wash, but that's a minor issue. I hosted numerous tea parties with this set, and now that I write tea cozy mysteries, obviously this had to come home with me.
Then there was this, which beloned to my grandfather--and namesake--Tony R. Cannon.
I don't know how Granddaddy came to earn this Purple Heart. About the only story he told about his experiences in the Germany in World War II was about one time he and another soldier were on duty. A well-dressed German couple came by and asked what they were doing. Granddaddy answered that they were digging a latrine. The couple spoke English, but didn't know that word. So Grandaddy and his buddy conferred on a translation into German, and finally triumphantly announced, "Scheisse Haus!" That translates into shit house--not the kind of language Granddaddy normally used--but he laughed and laughed when he told me that story.
Otherwise, Granddaddy didn't like to talk about his experiences or even think about them. In fact, he once threw this medal away, but my grandmother retrieved it from the trash and put it away. Eventually it went to my mother, and now me. It's never going into the trash again.
The next piece is a picture that hung on my father's parent's wall for years, and eventually ended up in Daddy's den.
At first we thought it was a portrait of some long-gone relative, but when we took it down, we saw that it was labeled as a print of the Sir Joshua Reynolds painting "Age of Innocence." (The original was in the National Gallery in London when the print was made, but is currently in the Tate.) But the print also said "The Perry Pictures," with a copyright for "Eugene A. Perry." Daddy is a Perry, and of course Perry is my maiden name. Was there a connection to our family? After a little internet research, I did indeed find a connection, but not what we'd expected.
Eugene A. Perry founded the Perry Pictures Company in 1897 to produce rotogravure prints on of great works of art on good stock paper. The pictures were mostly sold to schools to expose children to great art, and the company stayed in business through the 1950s. And here's the connection: the Perry Pictures company was located in Malden, MA. Which is where I live now. The location of the company's offices is maybe five minutes from my house.
Daddy insisted I bring the print back home to Malden.
Finally, here's a piece that most people would have thrown into that big dumpster.
It's a Christmas tree light bulb. In fact, it's a burned out Christmas tree light bulb. It was part of a string of lights that was on every Christmas tree our family put up while I lived at home. This particular string always had to be on the bottom of the tree, close to a power outlet, because it didn't connect with any other strings. It came froma time when a single string of electric lights was enough glory for one tree. In other words, it went back to my mother's childhood, and was on every tree she ever had as long as she lived.
The bulbs were made to last, but as the years went by, bulbs did eventually burn out but Mama couldn't stand to throw out the last of them. So we found this one tucked into a drawer in the living room. The rest of the string is probably up in the attic--the one area we didn't excavate--with the other Christmas decorations. Whatever bulbs remain on that string may even still work, though I doubt it. But this one bulb is staying with me. I think I'll tie a ribbon around it and hang it on my tree this Christmas.
One man's trash? Probably. But these are some of my treasures.