TOP O' THE MORN: Quills poked hole in heart

Nothing strikes more terror into hearts of string-savers everywhere than the sound of a closet being tidied. No one but the string-saver knows the anguish of having a precious store being rifled through by a closet-organizer with no feeling for the finer things in life.

So it was one morning that we found our heart in our throat when scraping-thumping-crashing began in the hallway one rainy spring Saturday in 1968. There was Himself in front of the porch closet, a look of triumph and purpose on his face.

He was cleaning the closet.


He was getting rid of stuff.


He was making room.


There went the canned-ham tin we were saving for a wall-sconce once we had a lesson in tin-craft and the jelly glasses without lids.

The driftwood collection was particularly hard to save. It wasn’t just fire material we explained, it was exquisitely formed, one-of-a-kind wood. Each piece eloquently making a contribution to Art.

Into the heap fell: our falls leaves that only needed matting and framing; our boxes of shells and seaweed; our bird feathers; our precious bits of flotsam and jetsam.

We closed our eyes to the used birthday candles being flung into the garbage. We mourned the handle-less cups we planned to make into planters; the string of burned-out Christmas lights; the baby-food jars that come in so handy, all being tipped on the heap.

When the telephone rang, we grabbed our chance to lay aside items for posterity: a box of beach glass; a bunch of well-rotted fishnet; a box of partly-burned candles; a book on candle-making; a reel of corsage ribbon; a bag of pillow filling; a can of exposed film; four worn paintbrushes; a length of art burlap; two porcupine quills in a jar.

It was the porcupine quills that saved the day. They had been sent from Alaska in 1941 when Himself was working in the Land of the Northern Lights and sent them to his island-bound family to oh and ah over. We did, and we kept them: those quills in their little jar throbbed with sentiment.

How were we to know that two 27-year-old porcupine quills would save our string-saver’s lifetime accumulation of precious bits and pieces?

Dorothy Neil has been writing and recording local history for more than 50 years. Her books chronicle local life and times.

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