Uppermost House: I’ll bring a side dish

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

We were all standing around after church a few months ago, sorting out who was going to bring the salad or the baked beans or the pickled woodchuck to the next week’s potluck, when I offered, “Hey, I’ll bring a side dish.” I had one arm wrapped around the shoulder of my dear wife when I said it and everyone thought I was talking about her and a collective giggle pulsed through the little crowd and the nickname stuck. She’s been my “Side Dish” ever since.

So the last couple of Saturdays, stuck here in the frigid dark innards of winter, Side Dish and I have been doing some house cleaning — “Ridding out,” she calls it. It’s inside work with no heavy lifting and frequent breaks for tea.

The problem is that all of us have too much space: drawers, closets, mud rooms, back rooms, attics, cellars, garages and even (yikes) barns, that we just fill up with the detritus of our lives, the everyday backfill that we know we don’t need but just can’t let go of because we might need it someday. And so it grows, congeals even, in all the nooks and crannies, in heaps and piles and tottering stacks on every surface, the all-around-us-ever-ubiquitous stuff. No, we’re not hoarders; we keep things we shouldn’t because there are a few flat places around where the cats don’t sleep, so hey, we’ll just huck it over there.

And so we two spent many pleasant hours going through the banana boxes, plastic storage bins, and old files drawers of our lives, throwing most stuff out (hint: the stuff you think you’ll never need, so be bold and toss it now), sorting and stashing and keeping only the truly important things (e.g., the faded napkin with our names and “October 16, 1982” embossed on it in silver), and laughing at ourselves for being the most undiscriminating of pack rats.

At one point, I stopped Side Dish, she passing me carrying an overflowing drawer, and held out my hand. “Look what I found,” I said. There, as vital as the nuclear launch codes, was a dried-out ChapStick, half a clothespin, a foreign dime, a scrap of paper with a phone number on it but no name, three large but unidentifiable flower seeds, a spent 9-volt battery, and several other vital items that I now cannot recall. I had found them all in a box filled to brimming with ancient check registers. “That’s our life,” Side Dish said. “Kinda weird isn’t it?”

A while later, I found an ancient hard-cover dictionary (remember those?), which had been lovingly used nearly unto death, its raggedyness held together with brittle gray tape. On the top left corner was written, “Duct tape applied 11/4/99, 11:30 a.m.” followed by my initials. I showed this to Side Dish and she looked at me as if we’d never met, shook her head and walked away. “Were definitely keeping this,” I shouted after her.

It’s good every once in a while to rummage around inside your own life, to see what you value and what you don’t, to see your personality mirrored in how you inventory your wing nuts, to reflect and wonder about yourself and (often) shake your head and then heave silly things into the trash. Sometimes, you even rediscover the things that you never knew you always knew you already had.

For me, on those two wonderful quiet Saturdays, I realized again for the first time what I marvel at and thank God for every day — that in my cluttered and sometimes tottering life, amidst my overflowing possessions, I already have what I’ve always wanted. You all know her as Karen, or Mrs. Lewis. She’s my wife, my best friend and I call her Side Dish.

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