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Wednesday, 27 June 2007 00:00

Life too often revolves around the minutiae

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By Stephanie Wampler

Stuff. Life is all about the stuff, isn’t it? We have stuff to amuse us, educate us, make our work easier, and do our work for us. We work hard so that we can buy more stuff. Where would the world be without vacuum cleaners? Could life continue without CD players? Certainly life as we know it could not continue without computers.

We have lots of stuff that’s just to look at. We bring home it home, hang it on the wall, stand back, and say, “Aah, that’s good stuff!” We have stuff to eat with, to eat on, to drive in, to carry things, to make us pretty, and to make us tough. We have stuff to practice with, perform with, and oww! — finger cramp from typing too much. Basically, we have a lot of stuff, and we love it.

Take my family, for instance. We live in a 1,500-plus-square-foot house of which every square inch is filled with ... something. I don’t even know what. No wait, actually I do know. Our house is completely filled with Legos, shreds of construction paper, and the body parts of decapitated action figures. Mixed in are my books, my husband’s woodworking magazines, and lots of clothes both dirty and clean. Somewhere in all that, we have managed to push out paths which we use to get to the kitchen and the bathroom.

But we don’t always notice the sheer volume of our stuff. We have furniture and closets to hide it in, and on those rare days that we clean up, we get to pretend for a few minutes that we are living a simple life and consuming only what is absolutely necessary.

That pleasant pretense is blown away at various holidays and festive occasions. Christmas and birthdays are the obvious offenders. It’s hard to think of myself as living simply when I am confronted by a mound of presents which the kids have to climb if they want to reach the gifts on top. These occasions should be simple; both Christmas and birthdays are celebrations of love and joy. Who needs stuff to celebrate that? Ah well.

We recently went to the beach. The kids packed their own clothes, mainly bathing suits. They also packed toys. I told them that they wouldn’t need many since we would play mostly on the beach, but the trip would last at least 10 hours, so they did need a few small things to play with in the car.

My youngest responded enthusiastically. He packed a large dufflebag, a large backpack, a small backpack, and then a little pile of stuff which wouldn’t fit in the above-named luggage. I don’t know what all was in there. I did notice a wooden spatula, a Power Rangers costume, a real guitar (no, he doesn’t know how to play it), art supplies including paint, and a pirate ship.

My oldest brought only a small backpack. An hour into the trip, I discovered that it was empty. He had planned on watching movies the whole time, but now he was tired of them. Excellent. How many hours to go? At least nine? Couldn’t be better.

My husband and I packed lightly. We packed clothes, necessary toiletries, and laundry detergent. That was it. What else could we need?

Off we went, and 10 long hours later, we arrived. Along the way, we had had a gnawing feeling that we had forgotten something. When we unpacked, we realized what it was. Almost everything. Luckily, it was raining, so we could go straight to the store. In addition to $200 worth of food (for three days at the beach), we had to get sunscreen, beach towels, hats, plastic beach toys, and boogie boards. Of course we had all this stuff at home, but we had packed lightly and left it all right where it was. Oh, we also got nets and flashlights, so the kids could go crabbing at night.

The bill at check-out was an unpleasant surprise. All this vital stuff added up to something more than we had expected, but hey, we were on vacation. It was time to live a little.

The rainy night came and went, and at last morning arrived, sunshiny and beautiful. The kids were up at dawn, and we all got ready — bathing suits, sun hats, sunscreen, flip-flops, towels, boogie boards, shovels, nets, buckets, and so on. Once on the sand, we rented beach chairs and umbrellas and set up camp for the day. We had all we needed. Everything was right, and now it was time to relax.

The kids ran to the water with all their gear. They played happily for one minute and then spent the next half hour bringing bits and pieces of it back up to the chairs. The waves kept washing their hats off. It was impossible to swim with the flip-flops. The boogie boards were hard to use. The nets were pointless without crabs running around.

But, in the end, it worked out. All the stuff ended up in a great mound on the beach, while the four of us played in the surf. Jumping waves together, swimming around, getting washed over the sand. No gear, no rafts, no toys, no stuff. Just us, playing and relaxing. Just a little spot of people together and alone in the great, wide sea. It was altogether good.

(Stephanie Wampler lives in Haywood County and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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