By Elizabeth Dunlop Richter
We’re back on Blakely Island during a rainy October, packing up our belongings in preparation for a new roof that will require removing the old roof entirely over the living room. This was my mother’s retirement home and our second or third time going through various closets to see what is worth keeping and therefore now needing to be packed and stowed during construction.
Fortunately, my mother was well organized. When she left Cleveland and built this house in 1975, she was thoughtful about dividing valuables between my sister and me, discarding anything she thought she or we would never want. So we’re not dealing with trunks of moth-eaten clothes or college textbooks. We are, however, faced with challenging technology. And I don’t mean the current dilemma many of us face of figuring out how to use our new iPhone 13s or digital 3-D printers. I mean 1975 technology.
Round One: Some years ago, we successfully found new homes for a manual typewriter and an electronic typewriter. But unbeknownst to us, this would be only the beginning, not only of deciding what we could still use but more challenging on an island, what to do with what we no longer wanted to keep.
Round Two: We also once had a thermofax machine that enabled my husband to have legal documents called in from his Chicago office. It is printed on rolls of paper. We later bought a computer printer that soon was incompatible with our laptops. Both had to go to the island dumpster, still technically in working condition. Getting them to a thrift shop or recycling facility on the mainland was at the time challenging, requiring a boat trip and a car rental.
So this week, we approached Round Three with justifiable trepidation. What remains in the house that we no longer use, no longer works, or still works but is now incompatible with what we have, and what works that we (or one of us) just don’t want? And what to do with any it? Sadly, all categories would apply.
Some decisions are self-evident. The princess phone was no longer needed in the bedroom. We both have cell phones that finally work on the island that now has a new T-Mobile tower. We do have a landline, but the living room large-key phone and answering machine are fine, The princess phone is on the “go” list.
Speaking of the bedroom, we discovered that the old electric blankets were still in the linen closet. We had stopped using them when we saw one emit a spark. They did come in handy a few years ago when a freak ice storm froze the kitchen pipes. But the blankets were easy to add to the “go” list.
We have a lot of CDs we like, so that was easy. The CD player stays, Spotify or Pandora notwithstanding. We also, however, have a lot of audio cassettes stored in towering plastic cassette cases, primarily classical music my mother loved. We also like classical music, but what I thought was a cassette player is only a CD player and radio, so the cassette player was apparently disposed of in the past. Who will take the cassettes? A cousin helped herself to about 2 dozen, but that hardly made a dent. Onto the “go” list.
Now the slides. My mother was not a photographer by preference, so she bought slides on her travels. If anyone would like sets of slides of ancient Greek artifacts from Athens, Italian art from the Ufizzi in Florence, or ancient Egyptian art from the Cairo Museum, let me know quickly! And I forgot London and Czech medieval towns are also in the mix.
Of course, there are family slides, too, but we need a slide viewer to review these as well as the commercial slides. We are well supplied with a slide projector and two carousels, but we plan to send the family slides home and digitize them, so who wants the carousels and projector? We have dutifully polled friends, family, cousins, even teachers back in Chicago. No one wants the commercial slides, projector, or carousels. We’d ideally view the family slides on the individual slide viewer, but none of the existing cords we found are compatible. More for the “go” list.
As we approach the end of the list there is some relevant tech history: Once upon a time, Mother had an old black and white TV and a second color set. One had a roof antenna, and her second one was old enough to have a UHF dial. A cable was installed to replace the antenna. When the deadline was announced to convert TV signals nationally, that meant the old TV models would receive no signals. All of us had moved on to computers or fancy new TVs. But the VHS player still worked with the old TV monitor.
I mention a VHS player. Yes, we have VHS tapes; but with one notable exception, none we’re interested in screening here that we can’t take home where we also have a VHS player.
There’s the matter of the exception, the one VHS tape that my husband watches here at least once a year. It’s a slightly daft movie with a young John Cusack and a young Demi Moore, titled “One Crazy Summer.” If you like lobsters dumped in swimming pools to bite the spoiled rich kid on the rear end, it’s your kind of movie. Yes, one can stream the movie on our laptops for $2.99. Is it worth $3 dollars a year saved to keep the TV and VHS player? That is the question for someone wiser than I to answer. But it means the TV and VHS player stay.
So, to us, the obvious answer to all these questions was to plan a day trip to a larger island with thrift shops for some donations and recycling in mind. One hates to add to a landfill. Not so easy. Getting to the Orcas thrift shop is not too bad this year, with one short boat ride and a car rental. The Orcas Island Exchange, however, does not take VHS players or tapes or even TVs as old as ours (had we wished to divest…). Moreover, one needs an appointment to drop things off, and there were no appointments until three days after we left.
There are two thrift shops on San Juan Island in Friday Harbor, but the daily water-taxi service to Friday Harbor has been canceled for the season. One could carry the goods to the dock to take the water taxi to Anacortes on the mainland, rent a car, catch the Washington State Ferry to Friday Harbor, drive to the thrift shop. The return trip would involve the same steps in reverse. Even if we could get there easily, the answer when I called Friday Harbor Fire Department Thrift about the slide carousels and slides was, “Oh no, that day is done.”
The dumpster looked like a more and more likely destination.
I am happy to report that our contractor has come to the rescue. As he helped us stack our already packed boxes of books and artwork, he said he’d be happy to take anything we wanted to a thrift shop he knew about on the mainland. “They take anything,” he assures us. I feel much better. Even though we’ll pay a contractor’s rate to take our outdated technology off our hands to a thrift shop that may still dump it, my conscience is clear.
I do realize as I write this that what we face is certainly a First World problem. Drowning in technology is a curse of the 21st century in America. We need to be more creative and figure out how to recycle our electronics and storage systems ourselves. Perhaps a cocktail dress adorned with shiny slides of the pyramids featuring a belt fashioned from plastic cassette boxes? I’ve seen stranger things during Fashion Week. And what about the harvest gold dishwasher, stove, sink, washing machine, and dryer? Round Four.