Cabinet Decisions | Newberry

Cabinet Decisions

It is April 1, but I am not going to toss any foolery into this column. Uncle Blogsy does not play the fool, lemon gravy: no one can ever tell the difference.

Anyhow, it’s been a sobering week. I have been called upon several times to perform that most appalling of tasks, going through a person’s life and sorting out what I can sell. It’s the kind of exercise that makes you feel really, really confident about your place in the universe. (Do you think someone will honestly fail to realize, when I’m gone, that all those notes for blogs are highly valuable cultural material? Honest? Even if I put them in three-ring binders?)

There was a surgeon in the group. I’m afraid I made short work of his textbooks from the fifties on nutrition and the digestive system, but for some reason I am hanging on to the emails he printed out dealing with a photograph to be used on the back of one of his works.

There was also a contractor in the donations. I think this is the third copy of the 1948 Chicago electrical code this year. That’s four more than I think I can sell, but hopes fly high in spring.

And then there was the teacher. Do teachers still bother with a vertical file? All good libraries and many, many teachers in my day maintained vertical files: file cabinet after file cabinet crammed with folder after folder after folder of useful articles for passing out, or useful pictures for the bulletin board. Is it all Internet these days: downloadable pictures of turkeys and tulips for the appropriate seasons?

Rum job, being a teacher. You need to be ready for anything that a student could ask about, from the onset of winter to the onset of puberty. This one cut, pasted, stapled and filed materials to back her up on it all. She had a folder on each state in the union (she quickly upgraded to add numbers 49 and 50), and every country in the world, and different weather conditions, and the parts of the body, and assorted kinds of plants. (I was a little surprised by the folder on the Kinsey Report, but there: I said they have to be ready for anything that might be discussed in class.)

Some of this has been easy to sort. Postcards from different states: we sell postcards at the Collectors’ table. Road maps from all the states: the map collection may want them, especially since they are all in great shape and almost all from about 1954. Those books of pictures of the Presidents: great for the Book Fair. That pamphlet where the turtle teaches us how to duck and cover in case of a nuclear explosion: great for eBay.

Then it gets harder. All those flyers and brochures and announcements by the teachers’ union? Well, the Chicago History Museum might have a place for those. Those nifty educational comic books, like “the story of meat, from open range to kitchen range”? Well, eBay might be the place for those. The sex education booklets from the mid-50s? We-e-ell, somebody out there will want them for a laugh. That envelope filled with construction papers Cupids for the February bulletin board? Those will surely sell on eBay. (Actually, kumquat kolacky, they will not. But even Uncle Blogsy isn’t mean enough to throw away a folder full of Cupids.)

Hey! Did you ever wonder whether Miss Teacher meant it when she said your album of autumn leaves was so good she wanted to keep it to show to future classes? Well, she did. And that Viking ship you made for Mrs. teacher’s Columbus Day diorama? Yeah, she kept that. And that big Christmas card with three colors of construction paper AND two kinds of glitter? She put it in her vertical file. She didn’t keep every paper she ever graded or every drawing every pupil ever made, praise be to John Dewey, but she kept YOURS.

And all so that one day, when she had traveled beyond the teacher’s lounge, where file drawers are never overloaded, and the budget is always approved, and every PTA meeting includes at least one mint julep, Uncle Blogsy could sit on a concrete floor amid piles of manila folders and mutter, “Well, SOMEbody might still want this.”

Check the collector’s table. That’s where I’ll put her brochures on how to use a vertical file. SOMEbody will want them. 

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