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first person

Illustration by Drew Shannon

I finally got rid of the juicer that my husband, Eric, had purchased 10 years ago without consulting me. He thought I’d be pleased. I wasn’t. We used it once, and because it was so difficult to clean and because it made the kind of juice nobody really wanted to drink, we never used it again. It sat like an angry buddha in the front hall closet reminding me of Eric’s folly and of my ineffectual efforts to get rid of it.

Oh, I tried. I tried every two or three years in a desultory fashion to get rid of it. I put up notices in the health-food store down the street. The juicer cost $100 new. I put up a sign: Juicer, used once, $50.00. The sign had little tear off parts along the bottom with my phone number. Nobody tore off any of the parts. Once, when I tried again, the sign disappeared completely. And still, the juicer sat in the front hall closet.

My son and daughter-in-law bought a juicer without telling me. “I could have given you mine!” I wailed. I think they’ve used their juicer once, too. Serves them right.

“Put it on Kijiji,” people suggested. While at 81 I can do all sorts of things, I am hopeless at navigating websites like Kijiji.

That’s why I worry about all the stuff I have in my house. I’ll never sell it online and I will die before I clear out the many years of stuff, the files and books and clothes and treasures that clutter up my wonderful house. The kids will be faced with too many decisions about what to keep, and I worry they will throw away precious things inherited and collected over almost 57 years of marriage. So now, in COVID times, I – like millions of other Canadians – have set about clearing things out of the garage, my cupboards, my files and my bookshelves.

Eric died a year and a half ago and since then, I have had the task of divesting myself of his many possessions. Eric seldom bought one of anything. Okay, he bought only one juicer, but he had at least two dozen pairs of reading glasses, 50 ties, a dozen flashlights, six portable radios and many, many shirts, pairs of pants and shoes. I have given away most of the reading glasses, but not all. The shirts and pants sit in the closet because, in COVID times, no one will take them.

Eric was an artist. He had dozens of paint brushes, markers, sketchbooks and how-to books about watercolour painting. I have given many of these away to friends who paint, but there are more. I have a lead on a painter who might like the art books. But who will take the many coffee-table books of famous artists? Please don’t tell me to put them on Kijiji. I can’t do it.

But the juicer. In the summer, I became obsessed with finding it a home. I mentioned it to everyone I knew. Every Zoom call with groups of friends heard about the juicer and not one friend wanted it.

“I have one,” they said, “and I have used it once.”

I despaired of ever finding it a loving home. I put another sign up in the health-food store. This time I only asked $25.00. Not one call.

“Free to a good home,” I told people. Maybe a nice bottle of sauvignon blanc in exchange? No takers. I was getting so desperate that I even thought of putting it out on the curb for a passing stranger to take. But abandoning it on the street felt disrespectful to Eric. I couldn’t do it.

So, I gave it another try. In the middle of a massage one day, I remembered the juicer and asked my masseuse: “Claudia, I have a juicer I am willing to give away. Do you have one?” Of course, she did. But she said she would ask around. And, miracle of miracles, her sister-in-law Ali said she would take it. I didn’t have the heart to ask for the bottle of wine. So, the next day, I trotted it over to Claudia’s with a little note in the funnel that said, “Enjoy!”

I know Ali will use the juicer once, but I don’t care. It is no longer sitting in the front hall cupboard reproaching me.

At the end of October, my sons and I made a trip way up Dufferin Street to the cemetery where Eric is buried. We hadn’t yet seen the grave with the tombstone that I ordered before COVID struck; the cemetery was closed to visitors then and we couldn’t go. The day was crisp and there were still some splashes of orange and gold on the trees around. We found the grave and admired the stone. We held each other and remembered the darling man that Eric was and as we turned to go, I spoke to him.

“Eric,” I said, “remember the juicer you bought all those years ago, I know not why? I gave it away. I hope you don’t mind. I gave it away to a good home, but I’m still working on your artbooks, your clothes, your ties, your flashlights and your reading glasses. I’ll report on my progress when we come to see you again.”

As we drove home, I reflected on the push-pull of wanting to declutter, but wanting nonetheless to hang onto Eric’s things still, to keep me in touch in a tangible way with this man I have lost. So, by design or happenstance, I will say goodbye to Eric one pair of reading glasses, one flashlight and one juicer at a time.

Ruth Miller lives in Toronto.

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