60: Shoe Shucking

Farewell dear friends.

 

Yesterday was the dreaded shoe-shucking day when I bagged my little collection of footwear for a new life at the local Salvation Army bins. It pains me to dispose of shoes that I still love, but the consolation is that soon I will be back in Canada, the country of affordable Clarks.

All this decluttering raises the question of how much stuff do we need to get through the day. Here, my clothes fit into one suitcase (I said clothes, not shoes). Back home, my walk-in closet was jammed tight.

I blame my Canadian-ness for this. Canadians live in the land of severe storms or as my Wisconsin friends calls it “big weather,” and so one of our defining traits is that we tend to be siege-shoppers. While homestyle mavens urge us to declutter, our government’s Emergency Services tack in the opposite direction, issuing lists of all the goods we’ll need on hand should a tornado/snowstorm/blizzard/flash-flood/earthquake/tsunami/power-outage/infrastructure-collapse occur. Not only do they make it sound like these events are imminent, they repeatedly warn us that in the event of a disaster, it could take five days for any aid to appear.

A river runs through it, but you can only tell by the trees. Manitoba flood: Courtesy Winnipeg Free Press

In other words, when things are at their worst, you are on your own. Maybe this is why Canadians tend to be a cooperative bunch. We know that we have to count on each other because it is not a sure bet anyone else is going to help. I don’t want to be smarmy about this, but there is an efficiency in the population that is impressive. When our prairie city was ringed with floodwaters, long before the army showed up, high school students were allowed to skip classes to help sandbag. The sheer muscle power and impromptu organization that mustered every morning at the dykes was fast, furious and made homeowners cry with joy at the sight. There was no centralized authority, we just showed up, climbed into boats or the buckets of heavy machinery to get through the floodwaters and jumped off wherever we saw a pile of sandbags at the ready.

The army appeared later in the week. I don’t want to cast aspersions on the good soldiers, because they operated under a different paradigm than did we scalawag crews, but their first order of business was to sit down and wait for orders. It seemed to us the orders were obvious: Form a line, pass sandbags, build a wall against the water. To their credit, the soldiers seemed as frustrated as us at having to wait.

Is it any wonder our shopping carts are vast, our freezers are rectangular mammoths, and our need for storage space is without end?

Nevertheless, this probably is still not a good excuse for the amount of stuff I keep.

A Countdown Queen + Her Calendars

Blame Christmas. I am a Countdown Queen.

Growing up, we didn’t have much money, which meant we didn’t have many toys, at least not compared to the other kids on the street, but what my brothers and I lacked in material possessions, we made up for with a hyperactive state of anticipation ratcheted up by our countdown vigilance toward Christmas day – our once-a-year toy haul. This may have been responsible for my mother hanging the phone receiver upside down for months at a time. No one knows for sure why she did this, but I think she was experimenting with it before twisting it around our necks.

As soon as Christmas rolled over we sprinted the countdown to New Years dinner at Grandma’s house, an unembarrassed snatch for hot homemade apple pies and tourtieres.

Then the marathon countdown to Easter was on, when we counted 100 days and more to the morning we would each get one chocolate rabbit. One. That was okay, because as soon as Easter was finished, the count was on to summer holidays. Lent? We didn’t need Lent. Deprivation was our natural state.

I was a somewhat above-average distance runner in my youth and here too, counting was the thing. Bouncing on my toes at the start line, I counted the racers who historically had been faster than me, counted those slower, counted down to the starting gun shot, counted the number of runners ahead of me, the number I passed, the number who passed me, the number of meters/yards we had raced, the number yet to come, and the magical final 300 metres/yards, my favorite part of the race when I passed as many on the track as I could (I have no ‘sprint’ in me so I had to drive hard over a longer distance at the end to come in the top three). Naturally, I counted down as I went. Racing was simply a living mathematical equation. It was lovely.

Catch me at any moment and I am counting down to something. I counted down the days to get to Switzerland, and as soon as I arrived, I started counting down the days to my return to Canada. This is only a microcosm of an entire life dedicated to countdowns.

Oprah counselled people to “live in the moment,” but what is the point of that? It can only be lived in once, and then it is done, but the moments ahead that can be looked forward to for ages, those moments are the ones stretched out. Why deprive myself of this joy?

And now, I’m at it again, counting down the days to our return to Canada, the land that I love, where I have half a clue what is being said to me, where I can afford to buy whole straps of beef tenderloin, where there is the best ice cream on earth, endless prairies, boundless skies, unfettered rivers and creeks, untamed ocean shorelines, lakes barely touched, and people who say sorry when they accidentally bump into you. I might just count them all.

This is not to say there is anything wrong with Switzerland, despite the fact it is a tad overpriced. It is a lovely country with wonderful, kind people, eye-busting vistas, and possibly the most punctual train service in the world, best expressed by the horror the Swiss display when a train is two minutes late. Two minutes. Maybe that’s why I like these people so much. They like to count, too.