We live in the northern half of a barn that was built in 1950 or so and converted into living space for humans in the late 70s to early 80s. The previous owners were a woman who was born to the couple who originally owned the whole place (her mother being a refugee from one of those places east of here that threw out all their Germans after the war and her father coming from a local family) and her husband. There were, in short, packrats who’d raised three kids and hadn’t ever experience the culling involved with moving before they moved out and handed the place over to us. Since moving in, we have burned enormous, old, moldy, worm-infested furniture. We have had had more than a ton of tables, chairs, appliances, broken roof tiles, concrete blocks, broken bricks, kitschy garden figurines, chipped pots, rotting planters, and I don’t even remember what else hauled away. And we’ve cut down, dug up, or pruned back multiple cubic meters of overgrowth/deferred maintenance in the garden (and still have a long way to go) and either burned it, composted it, or hauled it away. And still every once in while, you stumbled across another little surprise.
Which brings me to yesterday. I live in fear of accumulating. I’m just going to have to get rid of it all again at some point. The attic and storage rooms in our house (and outside in the various sheds, garage, heating room, and new barn) are my frenemies. I need them, but I can’t let them seduce me into piling up too much stuff. So I decided that before the end of January, I will go through the house from top to bottom, cleaning, organizing, and culling. I started yesterday afternoon in the attic, which was starting to turn into chaotic piles of camping equipment, water sports equipment, out-of-season clothing, cat carriers, extra plates and utensils for parties, and then all the wallpaper and carpeting extras, spare parts for faucets (etc), leftover floor and wall tiles, and every paint brush ever used by the previous owners.
So far I’ve only made slight progress. (The other half is outside right now burning 30 years’ worth of leftover paper wallpaper along with tree prunings, leaf miner-infested chestnut leaves, and the last of the literal wall of ivy I ripped out of the garden at the end of summer.) The last thing I did yesterday before giving up for the day was dump the pile of old burlap sacks in the trash and set aside the heavy, folded up cloth I took to be a drop cloth (it was next to the 35-40 year old empty diaper box of used paint brushes and rollers). We decided to keep it. A drop cloth is useful! “Help me shake it out,” I said to the other half. Then I would wash it.
I stepped outside and unfolded the cloth. Oh. It wasn’t a huge drop cloth at all. It was a large, flat sack made of very thick, heavy, durable white cotton. It had patches in places. Then I realized it had the faded remnants of a design that had been stenciled onto the center of one face in black ink or paint. I looked more closely. It was an eagle. A German eagle. The German imperial eagle, the Reichsadler circa 1935-1945, to be exact, its wings outstretched and its talons holding a wreath encircling a swastika.
I showed it to the other half. He laughed because what can you do but laugh? Nearly every German household has such leftovers stuffed up somewhere in the attic. From the markings on other side, it must have been a sack of food, flour or oats or something, delivered in the early 40s and then the sack was used over and over and over again and then it was stuffed up in the attic under burlap sacks and forgotten about. You kind of want to take it seriously because it’s old and a little bit horrible. But, ultimately, there is no point in treating it as anything more than a moldy old flour sack.