I’m not what anyone would consider sentimental (semi-mental, maybe), so rare is the occasion where I feel emotional towards an inanimate object. It probably helps that I don’t hold on to things long enough to develop an attachment to them, nor do I buy stuff expressly for that purpose. I don’t seek out souvenirs while on vacation. I don’t purchase concert shirts at shows. I throw out my son’s artwork with abandon and have no issue donating his used things to needy families.
My wife, on the other hand, won't even let me throw out the frozen pouch of breast milk that’s been in the back of our freezer for the past three years, and she is the reason our Christmas trees are in constant danger of collapsing because EVERY ornament we own is special and needs to be displayed.
That being said, I am having misgivings about parting with a particular item: the L.L. Bean backpack that I’ve had since 1991, a Christmas gift from a former girlfriend’s sister (a long story that has nothing to do with why I’m attached to it.)
And the legendary L.L. Bean workmanship and styling has nothing to do with it either, for while it is certainly serviceable, it is not exactly fashionable. But neither am I. And since it was the only one I had, I used it. For everything.
But after 20 years of daily use through all sorts of work and weather, it was starting to fall apart. And smell. Bad. So this Christmas I put it out there that I could use a new one, and my wife came through with the latest model from the Bean.
I was happy with my gift, and glad for the modern updates, but as I went about the task of transferring over the decades of bike tools and other “essential” items my old one contained, a funny thing happened. I started to feel sad.
Most of the stuff wasn’t even all that useful: a Quantas “survival pack” that consisted of socks, sleep mask, toothbrush, and tiny tube of toothpaste leftover from my trip to Australia ten years ago. A plastic army man found on the ground at a Dead show in Vermont. Several rocks from various beaches that I thought must have looked cool at one time. A half dozen dried up pens. About $5 in coins, remnants of a time when a payphone provided my link to home in an emergency. A bunch of beer caps. A pin commemorating Shea Stadium. And a permanent handicapped parking pass that I found on the side of the road and had always planned to turn in.
Not exactly a treasure trove or time capsule, and except for the bike tools, nothing that I felt the need to include in my new pack. Whatever had compelled me to lug that stuff around for the past however many years no longer seemed logical. But as useless as it all was, I had a hard time throwing it away.
And that’s so not like me.
Typically I would have tossed the whole thing in the trash without a second thought, but I just couldn’t do it. I tried. I opened the lid, lifted the smelly sack by its dry-rotted straps, and prepared to drop it in. But I just couldn’t do it. I eventually got around to discarding the crap inside, and have not felt any pangs of loss for my plastic army man. But the backpack is proving tougher to get rid of. I know I’ll never use it again, but I just feel bad about ditching it.
It has been with me on thousands of bike rides, hundreds of day trips, and dozens of vacations. It attended 10 years of college, without earning so much as an Associate’s. It’s been under the bright lights of Vegas and in the shadows of Stonehenge. It’s been to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine and the bottom of a volcano in New Zealand. It was with me and my brother on our road trip West, where we followed Historic Route 66 and hit all the hot spots in between. From the Grand Canyon to Grand Cayman, anywhere I’ve gone, it’s gone.
Hospitals. Book Readings. Graduations.
Canada. The Caribbean. Mexico.
Weddings. Reunions. Rehearsals.
From the times when I could leave it unattended at the top of the Empire State Building to the Post 9-11 world where it’s subject to search in a supermarket, it’s been there.
And now it’s done. The years of sun and sand and sweat have taken their toll, and not even the industrious elves from L.L. Bean can save it.
But I can.
Don’t get me wrong. I can’t fix it or restore it to its former glory. But I can make a place for it in the back of my closet. It’s had my back for so many years, it’s time to repay the favor.