Monthly Archives: June 2012

Deconstructing a life, one box at a time

The latest find: old bottles, dozens of them, packed away in the cellar. I was 12 when my parents were bottle hunting in earnest, and I eagerly followed them to old cellar holes and dumps in the woods to dig for bottles and glass insulators. Now, one by one, we carry these finds up from the dirty basement, and I carefully soak and scour away the years. On each one my mother had affixed a price in masking tape: $2.00. $5.00. 50 cents. Planning, apparently, to hold a yard sale, she stuck each glass bottle with the tape and wrote out a figure in Magic Marker, leaving the chore of removing the tape to the next generation. Steel wool works, and muscle; but I curse as I’m doing it. Was this yet another fantasy of hers, that they would find their fortune in the back of an old outhouse deep in the woods? And if she knew what they were worth (back then, not much; today, perhaps a little more), why not sell them and be done with it? But like everything else she pretended to value, these antiques were tucked away, hidden, whatever charms they held shrouded in newspaper and damp cardboard. After scrubbing and rinsing, we hold them up to the light. A faint pink cast can be seen in the base of a milk bottle. A Milk of Magnesia bottle ($33, my daughter says after searching on eBay) is the pale blue of my father’s eyes. One by one, we line them up on the old Formica table, as Mary pencils their value on a piece of scrap paper. Listerine, Sawyer’s blueing, A1 steak sauce, Fly-Tox, Graves & Sons, Pineoleum, Raleighs, Jacob Wirth (Providence beer), Clorox, Ball canning jars. Milk bottles, perfume bottles, ink wells, whiskey flasks. How pretty they would look on a window sill, or a book shelf. Instead, they were left packed away, their price tags proclaiming a certain crass ugliness. Maybe we’ll each pick one to keep, and set it out in the sun. Or maybe we’ll just cash them in. I wash, I dry, Mary scrolls the Internet, and still dozens remain in peach baskets and boxes, their mysteries undiscovered.

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