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
(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
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.
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
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
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"
"Mary, where are the new fishing lures I just bought?"
"Check the junk drawer, honey. . . ."
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