Even since my mother-in-law died last year and we had to clean out her cottage at Nottingham Village retirement center, I have been trying to get rid of things. Maybe so my kids won’t have to go through boxes of stuff neither wants, or maybe so it will be easier when my wife and I move back to California.

My goal: two plastic bins and a small wooden filing cabinet.

The filing cabinet was, as expected, mostly papers. The first folder held the adoption papers for my two Pekingese, Kung-pao and Mushu, and eleven-years’ worth of vaccination forms. Kept their adoption papers and the most recent rabies certificate, recycled the rest. Under the folder, lying alone on the bottom of the drawer, was a dog collar with a license and rabies tag from 2003. It was Eggroll’s, my first Pekingese, adopted when I was twenty and lived alone, and the only thing I brought home from the vet that last time. The keep pile.

A folder of old publications, roughly a hundred book reviews I wrote for Public News, Houston’s underground newspaper, long defunct. Maybe I shouldn’t get rid of things when I’m depressed about my career—the last time I threw away the diplomas for my B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. Trash, without even skimming them. The next folder contained twenty-year-old publication contracts for poems and my two critical books. I only save tax returns for three years, so I can’t see any need to retain these. Trash. The books and journals remain on my shelf.

After my daughter was born, my mother sent me a manila envelope of cards I had made when I was in grade school. In each, I drew a picture and wrote a poem—not a real poem, just sentences that rhymed. The drawings were atrocious as well. The world has enough bad poetry and art—trash—although I did keep a Christmas plate I made for my parents in first grade. I’ll let my kids laugh at my lack of artistic talent when they discard it.

A photograph of Larry. It was loose, alone in a folder and not in the envelope of Royal Ranger pictures with “Do Not Open” emblazoned on it. That should have been an easy call: fire. He’s smiling and doesn’t look like a sexual predator. I repressed those events for twenty years; my mother sent that envelope when I was trying to recover those blanks with my therapist. I’ve never mentioned any of this to my children. Maybe I’m trying to keep the worst parts of humanity a little further from them. The photo goes in the envelope with the warning, stashed in the back of the filing cabinet. What disposal is appropriate for such a record?

In one of the bins, my varsity letters from Pasadena Christian Junior High and Maranatha High School. I was mediocre at best, but managed to earn letters despite spending most of the games on the bench. My foray into athletics did not make me socially acceptable; everyone knew me as the paradigmatic math/science nerd. Trash. My high school Science and Math Award plaque from Bank of America and my pin from the California Math League return to the bin—my son, who will major in astrophysics, might appreciate those.

The final container represents my inheritance from my father’s parents. On top is my grandmother’s 1941 diploma from Dawson Springs High School in Kentucky—that meant more to her than any of mine did to me. I should frame it and put it on the wall in place of my PhD. A lot of pictures, candids from the Civil Air Patrol and the mission field, a couple of African newspapers mentioning my grandfather’s revival services. Beneath are faded portraits of unnamed ancestors, some dressed up and others in overalls. There’s no point in passing these on to my kids: they have no stories or dates. My family history is complicated enough with the relatives I can identify, religious colonialism and zealotry. As the oldest son of an oldest son of an oldest son, I am the unwitting repository of the Hardin family photo archive. I’ll cull this bin by half tomorrow.

One bag goes to the street as garbage and one to the Salvation Army. The dog collar stays on my desk—it can’t be buried in a folder.


Michael Hardin

Originally from Los Angeles, Michael Hardin lives in rural Pennsylvania. He is the author of a poetry chapbook, Born Again, from Moonstone Press (2019), has had poems and flash CNF published in Seneca Review, Wisconsin Review, North American Review, Quarterly West, Moon City Review, among others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart.

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