I’ve led a just-in-case existence for most of my life, but I’m just now beginning to realize what that means. Nothing particular gave rise to this realization. Not a crisis. Nor a profound encounter. Nor an inexplicable epiphany.
The pivotal moment of self-awareness, in fact, spilled out of a box of quarter-inch-long metal screws so delicate in appearance that I could barely grasp one of them with two fingers.
It’s only fitting that I made the discovery during my daily ritual cleanup in this raging pandemic season. I found the screws snuggled away in a cardboard box on a long-ignored shelf in the garage. The discovery reminded me of the history of how they were assembled. Years ago, my wife had the interior of our house painted by professionals, having vowed after the previous painting to scream halt should I attempt to handle a paint brush again.
The new paint, I was then informed, also demanded new electrical outlets, switches and plates to match the new color scheme. Once again, a professional was summoned to replace the outlets, switches and plates, clearly based on the assumption that someone ill-adept at handling a paint brush might pose an actual danger dabbling with electrical wires.
When the electrician finished the job, he asked what we wanted done with 51 old switches, outlets, plates and screws. My wife said throw them into the garbage can. But, I directed: “Put them in the garage.”
“Why?” my wife asked.
“Just in case.”
“In case of what?” she persisted.
“Just in case.”
As I spoke, I heard deep in the recesses of my memory the voice of my late father. A survivor of the Great Depression, my father rarely discarded anything, reasoning, of course, that some day that thing might again be needed, and when found (probably in the basement) would save a needless expenditure.
Obviously my unconscious psyche had been infused with the same reasoning. My companion arguments were shared with my wife over the years and came down to this: just-in-case wasn’t hoarding; it wasn’t being a pack rat. No. It just made sense.
The proof has revealed itself in what I’ve discovered these past few months. In the garage, for example, in addition to the tiny screws, I found a bag of rags. The bag had the faded letters "AM&A’s." While most of the rags were unidentifiable, two were T-shirts bearing faded inscriptions. One was gray and read “Chautauqua Overland Ski Marathon.” It was circa 1980. The other bore a red, yellow and black insignia promoting the United Way Day of Caring for Aug. 19, 1998, a mere 22 years ago.
I made more discoveries in the recesses of a desk drawer: a passport that expired in 1996; a reporter’s notebook containing penciled scribbles I wasn’t able to decipher; Post-Its with passwords from old AOL and Adelphia internet systems; and a never-worn white bow tie with brown dots.
All of these were just-in-case treasures. All – except one – could easily have been discarded. That one was a yellowed photo album that sparked guesses as to the identities of many in the photos, but more importantly exploded with warm memories of long-forgotten friendships and pleasures. To me, this alone confirms the value of a just-in-case mindset.