Junk Drawer Treasure Trove

The All-American Junk Drawer Treasure Trove

By Sam Johnson

  "Mary, where'd you put the garden seeds I just bought?"

   "Check the junk drawer."

   "Sam, where's the grocery checkbook?"

   "In the junk drawer."

   "Mary, where's schedule of events for the Devils Run activities this weekend? I just clipped out of the newspaper last night.

   "Maggie was trying to eat it, so I stuck it in the junk drawer." (Maggie is our 11-year old Scottie Terrier).

   "By the way, where is Maggie?"


     The junk drawer: It's the basic universal storage unit found in all American homes, used to store a variety household necessities (and a hodgepodge of odds and ends) that fall into one of three categories:
(1) Essential items to the daily domestic operations of the household, such as the telephone book, garage door openers, loose change, paperclips and rubber bands, spare sets of car and house keys, fast food and grocery store coupons.
(2) Important tools used only occasionally (but necessary to have near at hand and ready for use when needed) such as Phillips head and flat head screwdrivers, fingernail clippers, car fuse puller, miniature screwdriver for repairing eyeglasses, super glue, masking tape and electrical tape, tack hammer, and an assortment of small nails, screws, AA and AAA batteries.

(3) Things that are never used
but will come in handy some day, such as a collection of broken shoelaces, clothing and furniture buttons, lost game pieces, and several hundred twist-ties.
The junk drawer has been a fixture of Johnson households for as long as I can remember, and holds a special place in my heart today, due I suppose to the fact that one of my chores as a child was to periodically clean it out.
It never failed that every few weeks, so much stuff had been stuffed into the junk drawer that it began to spill out behind and jam up all the other drawers. That's when my job began.
     On the garage floor I had to empty the contents of that huge kitchen drawer we used for our "junk drawer" and sort everything out.
Batteries were sorted by size (C, D, AA, AAA, 9 volt, 12 volt) and placed in separate coffee cans. We never checked to see if they were still good (unless you count the 9 volters that "tickled our tongues" when we tested them), because Dad would never let us throw any of them away unless they leaked acid.
     All batteries were kept, "just in case."
Pens were sorted out according to those that worked and those that didn't. (Once I sorted them according to ink color). Keys were collected and tested in all the locks around the house to see what fit where, and then labeled accordingly. Coupons and proof-of-purchase stamps were sorted by amount or by product. Pencils, rubber bands, staples, paperclips, nails, screws, everything was taken out, sorted, and put in its proper place in the den or garage or somewhere else until all the junk was gone and the kitchen drawer was clean again and could hold the telephone book, a notepad and a couple pens and pencils.
     All the "leftover stuff" was bagged up and stuck out in the garage somewhere -- a single "ear bud" from an old transistor radio, buttons and dials from unknown appliances, missing game and puzzle pieces, cork furniture coasters with teeth marks and bite-size chunks missing, chewed up tooth brushes, and all sorts of doodads, clips and fasteners whose function I could not fathom.
To be honest, it was a monumental task that I resented at first but later loved to do, after I discovered a couple things:
(1). Cleaning the junk drawer could be an exciting educational adventure.
In the process of sorting through all the junk, I came across all sorts of gadgets I had never seen or heard of before. I learned about Allen wrenches and hex keys, drapery hooks and bobbins, molly screws and set screws, coaxial cable connectors and alligator clips, cotter pins and buss fuses, double-sided carpet tape and duct tape ("duck tape?"), and sundry other things.
But more importantly, I discovered that --
(2) Junk drawers could be treasure troves.
Loose change, an arrow head, smooth and odd shaped stones, strange commemorative coins, bus tokens, wooden nickels good for a free cup of coffee, stamps from far away places, Japanese coins with holes in the middle, key chains that glowed in the dark, S & H green stamps (I had filled several books by the end of the year, good enough for a Kodak box camera), official looking fountain pens with ink levers on the side, and mechanical lead pencils.
Eventually, the job of cleaning out the Johnson junk drawer was passed on to my younger brothers and sisters one by one, though I don't know if they ever found the same pleasure in the task as I did.
There was something magical about the family junk drawer, the way it filled up so quickly and the variety of things it contained. I still enjoy rummaging through it when I'm at home visiting Mom, though its contents have dwindled substantially from "back in the day." Yet, I still manage to uncover an interesting item or two.
Meanwhile, in our home the "junk drawer tradition" continues.

   "Mary, where are the new fishing lures I just bought?"

   "Check the junk drawer, honey. . . ."

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