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An abundance of friends is better than things

January 2, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

By Joan Hershberger

The great gift giving gala draws to a close. Saturated with too much food, fun and presents, we resolved, "it's time to get rid of some stuff" this year.

The lifestyle hero of Lee Child's fictional series featuring retired former Marine Jack Reacher suddenly sounds appealing. Reacher owns only the clothes on his back and a toothbrush. He rides buses, gets off at a whim and stays only long enough to solve some person's horrible dilemma. Then he buys clean clothes, trashes the dirty ones and leaves.

In real life, we work to earn money to buy more stuff that requires a place to keep it. The bigger the house, the higher our piles of stuff.

Recently, for the second time, I helped sort through an estate. The first time it was my grandmother's effects. As her family sorted, we remembered big and little events we had shared as a family. Such a contrast to this year's clearing out after the death of a confirmed bachelor. His three plates, unused stove, nearly empty refrigerator and cans of stew emphasized his singleness. A few basic clothes, bed, lounge chair, TV and a van with the tools of his trade as a mechanic said he didn't need much.

Still, he filled his apartment from "cool stuff" he found at estate or yard sales. His eclectic tastes included: trains, records, ceramics, trinkets, paintings, stamps, coins, holiday decorations and books. Yard sale aficionados knew him well. One man said, "if I saw him in another room at an estate sale, I went around the other way. I knew that when we met we would be talking for a while of talking."

"When he got hold of it he was not letting it go," another friend commented.

I expected to find a hoarder's lair. I didn't. We had plenty of room. We found all three closets stacked to the limit and walls lined with loaded shelves and display cabinets.

Whatever he paid for things, whatever he thought their real value, no longer mattered. It all had to be sold, given away or trashed. Just as it did with my grandparent's household goods.

In the end the really cool stuff he left behind came from the stories his friends told of his gregarious nature and the many ways he helped people. For instance, every week he drove a car-less guy into town to buy groceries. For a long time, he daily checked on an elderly woman who lived alone until her health forced her to move away.

In the back of his van he carried tools to change oil or do minor engine repairs to supplement his limited income and to help others in a pinch.

"The story that best describes him," one friend said, "is the time he saw a woman with a dead car in the parking lot at Walmart. He discovered she did not need a new battery, she needed a new starter. So he got one and changed it for her then and there."

He made no plans for "what happens if ..." He did plan to enjoy the people he met every day and help where he could.

As we take down the trees, put away decorations and prepare for the new year ahead of us, consider how stuff complicates our lives, consumes our time and drains our energy exactly as Jack Reacher often details. As the New Year approaches resolve to spend your time and energy with folks building memories that last. Those left behind will cherish those shared moments long after any gifts have faded or been consumed.

Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of "Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times."

Print Headline: An abundance of friends is better than things

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