Rita Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 28, 2008

Price paid later for pull-down stairway that saved mortgage

At a point early in our marriage, my husband figured out he could save himself the cost of another mortgage if he simply installed a fold-up attic stairway to allow me access to what had been unused storage space. He cut a hole in the ceiling of the hall and, behold, all sorts of possibilities suddenly opened up to me.

Prior to the opening of the attic, I had precious little storage space, so, guess what? I didn’t save very much. When I needed more room in the closet, I took a load of unused clothes to the Salvation Army. Before I caved in to the urge to buy something new, I considered the cost. Not so much in dollars, but in space the item would take up in our small house.

Then came the stairway that changed my life.

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How convenient to pull on that cord and traipse up the steps whenever I needed to store something.

Suddenly, buying toilet paper in the 24-roll package became sensible. Now there was a place to hang those heavy winter coats in the summertime, and that big oscillating fan had a home in the winter.

But the whole thing has backfired. I have become my mother.

You cannot walk in my mother’s attic. A child of the depression, she has saved anything and everything that might have a useful purpose again. Some things, like the Easter baskets and Christmas ornaments, find their way up and down her attic steps yearly. But much of it just stays put among the Barbie dolls and old lamps and rock collections and fruit jars.

Recently she found a poster that had heralded my sister as Homecoming Maid for the senior class at West Panola School in 1973. Last Sunday she displayed a basket with styrofoam Easter eggs imprinted with marks made by my front teeth on Easter Sunday, 1956. Also on exhibit among her springtime paraphernalia was a molded sugar egg colorfully decorated with purple and yellow icing and preserved since 1977. I can’t believe it doesn’t have tooth marks.

My resolve not to clutter up my own attic has crumbled like the rose corsage from Jenny Johnson’s wedding (ca. 1998).

All that upstairs space quickly began to fill up. With boxes. Mostly empty.

When we’d acquire a new computer or coffee maker or TV, the box would go to the attic. Just in case we needed it. Which, in 13 years, we haven’t.

If someone gave Rupert a new shirt, I saved the box. When Thomas got a Nintendo, I saved the box. When I got a new Waterpik, I saved the box.

I began to feel boxed in.

Saturday I’d had enough. I had gone to the attic to find a box that once contained a canvas cover for the metal gazebo that stands on our deck. The canvas cover is now in shreds, thanks to gusts that blew through during the winter. That’s why I was looking for the box–to find a packing slip that might tell me who I ordered the old one from so I can get another one. Of course, I had not saved that box. But I was disgusted at the motley pile of cardboard containers that littered an entire section of the attic.

“Enough,” I cried, to no one in particular.

I began snatching up empty, dusty, disgusting boxes and tossing them disrespectfully down the stairs. It’s a good thing no one else was home to see the pileup in the hallway.

Now and then I’d come across a dirt dauber nest attached to a box. When those critters emerge, they’ll find themselves under a landfill. That’s right, all those boxes were transported via Rupert’s pickup to the county rubbish pit at Courtland.

Even after my Saturday morning hissy-fit, my attic is far from clutter-free. The Salvation Army Store is the next stop on my road to rehabilitation. Now I just need some empty boxes to tote the stuff in.