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Hold on to the stuff of memories

I'm a keeper, not a collector. A keeper, not a pack rat. A keeper of things that are, were or might someday be useful again. If the distinction between pack rat and keeper is indistinct, well, one man's trash is another's - you know the rest.

I'm a keeper, not a collector. A keeper, not a pack rat. A keeper of things that are, were or might someday be useful again. If the distinction between pack rat and keeper is indistinct, well, one man's trash is another's - you know the rest.

The other day while rummaging through a basement storeroom, I dusted off moving boxes that hadn't been disturbed for more than 20 years. Apparently they held items of no particular use.

Not so. Simply because stuff has not been used for a long time does not necessarily mean it's not useful or important or meaningful. Turned out, it was long-forgotten memory stuff.

One box hid dozens of 33 rpm vinyl records - a collection of my wife's music and mine. We no longer have a turntable, but just to see the bruised and scraped album covers, just to be carried off by memories to the days when those tunes were new - wow. Great fun. "Meet the Beatles," "The Blues Project," "Bobby Vee," "Sergio Mendez and Brazil 66," "The Jefferson Airplane Takes Off." I sat there an hour in a rose-colored mist of selective recollection: the good times, only the good times.

Another large box, still taped, revealed my well-worn reflector telescope, a gift from my wife so long ago I can't remember when. It had been packed away lovingly to protect its lenses and mirror. It conjured up a cold, North Dakota night in 1986 on a hill near Devils Lake, in knee-deep snow, when several of us viewed the return of Halley's Comet. No reason to keep the 'scope? I think not. Halley's will be back. Someone will want to look. I hope it's me.

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And there in back-shelf shadow, shrouded by a yellowed, cracked plastic cover and unused for at least 40 years, my college microscope. It was among the most important tools of my university studies. I can't begin to total the hours spent peering into its single ocular barrel, preparing slides for histology lab, examining razor-thin tissue sections for botany class and then sketching what the microscope revealed. Its Bausch and Lomb label still bright, the precision instrument looked ready to go to work again. Sensing for just a moment the smell of the college life sciences lab, I reverently replaced the dust cover on the artifact of my youth that spoke to me of dreams, aspirations and the road not taken.

Finally, a tightly wrapped bundle of - what? - comic books? Did I squirrel away comic books? Ah yes, Classic Comics - a stack of about 30 of them going back to the 1950s when I began to discover the world's great authors. Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers," H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" and "The Time Machine," Harriett Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and so many more. I'd devour each of them, once, twice, again, until the next one came out a month later. The collection grew as did my hunger for good stories. In time, I eagerly made the transition from picture comics to literature. So finding that time-stained trove of Classic Comics was like getting reacquainted with old friends and one does not discard old friends. You keep them close, for the memories.

Readers can reach Forum Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521. E-mail jzaleski@forumcomm.com

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