Holding on to Old Ratty Things


Apparently, I’ve grappled with the problem of mortality from the age of four. My parents told me that I askedprobably triggered by an explanation about the death of my grandfather“Why is God always making new people? Why doesn’t he just keep the ones he’s got?”

Just keeping what you’ve got has always made sense to me. In infancy I had a baby-blue security blanketwhich I called my donnythat I dragged everywhere with me for years. I would have kept it longer, but when it deteriorated to what my father considered a disgustingly dirty piece of rag, he tossed it on a pile of burning pine straw. In a minute my donny was gone. I haven’t felt secure since.

I drive a 19-year-old car, a 1997 Firebird with 180,000 miles on it. The dash is cracked, the upholstery faded. It has some leaks, too many dents and scratches to count, and sometime’s there’s a smell like burning oilbut I’m in no hurry to let it go. Firebirds aren’t made anymore, and I truly cannot find a new car I like better.

Every Christmas, I decorate a tabletop Christmas tree that I bought for a dollar at W.T. Grant’s 46 years ago. It sheds dozens of its glued-on green cellophane needles every year, getting thinner and thinner. But it looks absolutely finegood evenafter it’s all decorated with a 20-year-old string of lights and ornaments I’ve cherished for decades.

I owned a heavy-as-a-boulder cathode-ray-tube TV till just last year. While I was in bed with a stomach virus, my wife and stepson bought a flatscreen without telling me because they knew I’d think it wastefula shame evento replace something that was working perfectly fine.

I realize these facts might make me sound like a hoarder or at the very least a quirky, must-have-lived-through-the-Depression-era old coot. But in my view there’s a lot at stake here. By holding on to old ratty things I’m trying to send a signal to my wife: “Baby, even though I have a long list of signs of wear, and could easily be replaced with a newer modelwhy not just hold on to me a little while longer?”

And of course I hope God is paying attention to my example as well. Why be in a hurry to replace people just because we’ve aged? Just because our needles have thinned? Just because we’re bulky and overweight? Just because we have a few leaks and dents and could smell better?

A few Christmases ago, my wife gave me a new belt to replace the one I’d been wearing for twenty-five years. She had cleverly commissioned it to be made by a Hollywood movie prop company to look almost exactly like my old one, except that it wasn’t about to break in half. The leather had been artificially aged; it was faded in color and looked old. I taught literature too many years for the symbolism to be lost on me. It made me feel . . . What’s the word? Oh yeah—distressed.

OK, I’ll admit it: I do wear the new belt.

As for the old belt? I haven’t thrown it away. It’s way, way back in a closet. Where I hope not even God can find it.


My thanks to Wildacres Writers Retreat, where this piece was written.

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8 thoughts on “Holding on to Old Ratty Things”

  1. I had a leather wallet for nearly 15 years and it was in bits, like myself and falling apart, like myself and full to the brim with useless pieces of receipts and junk. Jill Recently got me a new wallet that’s slightly bigger than a credit card. It’s a piece of leather that wraps around a piece of steel with a money clip attached to it. Hard as it was to stop using the old wallet, I really like the idea and craftsmanship of the new one although I’ll never tell Jill Y that!

    1. We are lucky to have wise women in our lives.

      (from William Butler Yeats: “An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick.”)

  2. Do you still have a ratty old Mercer t-shirt hidden way back in your closet, too?! I am stuck with two body hearing aids that were last made in the 1980’s! I bought both Widex body aids over ten years ago! I had no idea they were already at least 20 years old brand new! I have several behind-the-ear hearing aids safely tucked inside my top dresser drawer! I now mow the yard without wearing the BTE hearing aids. The BTE hearing aids sound like Mickey Mouse and I am still wearing technology invented in the 1950’s! I hope I can still find a slightly used Widex body aid on EBay but no success yet! Help! Lol!

    1. Technology invented in the 1950’s sounds great to me! Hey! WE were invented in the 1950’s!

      (Alas, the Mercer T-shirt is no more. The material was so threadbare that it was like gauze.)

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