Add a ceramic coffee mug with a poorly printed image of the Padres’ stadium in San Diego, Calif., to the list of things that have almost destroyed our family.
In case you are keeping track, the tally looks something like this:
1. A “Star Wars” Tatooine skiff that everyone wanted and no one was willing to give as a Christmas gift and which now sits broken in pieces at the bottom of a toy chest, even after I learned that in its box, the skiff is worth the price of a small car.
2. The time that Lindell erased his brothers’ progress on Super Mario Bros. Wii, and it seemed like the entire world had spun off its axis.
3. The Padres’ mug that I despise with the energy and fervor usually reserved for child molesters and arsonists.
We were planning a garage sale. Ever since relocating to Maine two years ago, we have kept a storage unit filled with all the boxes and knickknacks I was too exhausted (and scared) to go through before. Now it was time to purge. The portable storage pod seemed like a time capsule of our last few weeks in Florida. It was almost as if the fight Dustin and I had about packing the boxes too carelessly was preserved within the walls. Its memory billowed out along with the smell of plywood, stored antiques and cardboard. On a bright, sunny Saturday morning, I opened the door of the pod, breathed in the smell, and was instantly mad at Dustin again.
But there was no time. Garage sale shoppers were already lining up on the driveway. I dragged out boxes of forgotten toys, baby items and wedding gifts (Tip: The cup and saucer sets that come with a place setting of china are totally worthless; register for a lawn mower instead). One of the boxes was filled with coffee mugs. There is only one person in our family who drinks coffee, and he only drinks it on Saturday. Therefore, one mug, in theory, should suffice. I put the other 24 mugs on the sidewalk to sell.
Enter Dustin, the rescuer. By that I mean he cannot bear to see the waterpik flosser we’ve never used leave in the arms of another soul. During a garage sale, while I dicker with shoppers, Dustin runs around snatching items from people’s hands and pleading with me about the usefulness of the broken hedge trimmer he was sup-posed to fix five years ago. He even rescues things not in the garage sale.
Shoes are the hardest for him to part with. He has about eight pairs of athletic shoes with varying degrees of grass stains on them and all with a different purpose: “I wear the blue ones to cut the grass. I wear the Nikes when I take the boys fishing. I wear the ones that my toes stick out of when I’m playing football in the backyard and there is a 30 percent chance of rain. I wear the black ones when the chance of rain reaches 70 percent.” I have never known Dustin to throw or give away shoes when he buys a new pair. He just keeps them on life support and adds them to the collection.
There is one pair of shoes in particular that Dustin has rescued on multiple occasions. The heels are completely rubbed bare, the sole is separating from the fabric, and the insides smell like hot garbage. I threw them in the trash while Dustin was at work, and for weeks I thought the shoes were finally gone. About a month later, I opened the bottom of our corner cupboard and saw them there, like a hand reaching out of a grave. I shrieked at the sight.
Back to the garage sale. I went inside to get a drink and saw several of the doomed coffee mugs sitting on the kitchen counter. I took them back outside to sell. Hours later, they were inside again, this time hidden in the cupboard. I threw them in the trash. Dustin rescued the Padres one. I put it out on the driveway.
Dustin, who had grown panicked and presumably exhausted from all his search and rescue missions, turned to Owen, 7, and said, “Owen, please; don’t you want to keep this coffee mug in your room? You could put pencils in it or something.” Owen looked at Dustin, then at me. He grabbed the mug and ran cowering to his room with it.
I followed Owen, took the mug, and brought it back outside. With my eyes nearly popping out of my head and sweat pouring down my temples, I lifted the mug above my head and said to Dustin, “I have never hated a coffee mug so much in my life. I want to smash this all over the driveway.”
“Sarah, it’s just a mug,” Dustin said. He looked scared.
Customers scurried to their cars.
I found the coffee mug in our pantry this morning. I am tempted to throw it away. But let’s be real. Like Dustin’s shoes, it’s probably immortal. And I’m afraid to think which “grave” it might climb out of later.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at email@example.com.