Not just paper

My grandfather had a thing for auction sales. If he could buy a box of junk for a buck, well, by golly, he’d be the proud new owner of a box of junk.

He lived on a farm in western North Dakota. Now, that area is experiencing an oil boom, but back when I remember visiting his farmhouse, fields of hay (and other crops unidentifiable to a teenager in the ’80s) went on for miles. His sprawling yard, if you can call it that, was filled with broken farm implements, what-nots, out buildings and other paraphernalia.

When I was very young, I remember fetching fresh chicken eggs and watching him milk cows. I was amazed and repulsed by cow pies — enormous, sloppy brown cow pies.

As I got older, he worked his way out of livestock and I, rebellious and bored, would escape the visiting that occurred in my grandfather’s kitchen to find something “interesting.”

Though the animals got fewer and fewer, every year we visited new little structures were added to his countryscape — an outhouse, a shed, a trailer home — whatever fantastic deal he made at an auction found a home in his little junk yard.

When I was about 13, I tried to enter one of these little wooden buildings, and I found it stacked to the ceiling with stuff, quite likely also won at an auction. Just inside the doorway, though, was a stack of Reader’s Digest magazines. And by stack, I don’t mean a few dozen copies or even a pile a foot deep — I mean I remember a stack of Reader’s Digests from floor to ceiling. Hundreds of copies. Imagine the fire hazard.

Obviously, someone valued their monthly Reader’s Digest so much, she kept them until my grandfather came along to value them, too. Good magazine are like that — keepers. [My mother-in-law recently gave away a box of National Geographic magazines, too beautiful to just throw away, to a classroom of appreciative fifth graders. I can’t throw away my old Everyday Food magazines, and now I’m subscribing to Cook’s Illustrated — I dare you to dump those all-time best, lab-tested recipes!]

Now an appealing thing to a 13-year-old about Reader’s Digest magazine, then and now, is the jokes. Specifically, “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” a compendium of laughers submitted by readers every month.

So sat on the step in the summer sunshine and compulsively read years’ worth of “Laughter is the Best Medicine” for hours — forget the stories, ignore the ads — just the jokes, please. Because it was infinitely better than whatever my parents were talking about with my grandfather inside the house.

Grandpa’s junk turned out to be pretty good buy, providing an afternoon entertainment for an impossible-to-please teenager.

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2 responses to “Not just paper

  1. Do you know we no longer accept Readers’s Digest condensed books or National Geographics at our used book sale because they just don’t sell? I am with you on the Cooks’ Illustrated magazines, however. I must be related to your grandfather.

  2. I am my father’s son. As much as I detested some of his habits of hoarding, I can honestly say I have some of his traits. I can hardly bear throwing out magazines, some of my personal history in newspapers, or many other things that would have been gone if it was up to my spouse. My basement can attest to that. On the other hand, my first experiences of reading came from some of his auction items. He would buy a box of books (with truly random titles and genres) at an auction and it would be almost Christmas for a lonely boy out at an isolated farm. I could still spend hours in a used book store and I have a personal library that I have to restock even if not all books were read. My father through his strange ways gave me the gift of reading and the love of books.

    Uncle Lee

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