COLUMN: "When junk becomes genetic’

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, May 2, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece aired on last week’s episode of “Between You and Me” on 91.7 KAXE.

When junk becomes genetic
By Aaron J. Brown

With spring safely here we can begin to consider procrastinating on the ritual of spring cleaning, a practice built on rendering judgment upon the things we find in our house. As things accumulate they must be sorted. Some things, because of their shape, status or size, defy such organization. They’ve got to go somewhere, though, so a place must be created: it’s called the junk drawer. The junk drawer is the holy alter of spring cleaning, the epicenter of winter hoarding. This year I’ve got a problem. The junk drawer in our house has been occupied by a rogue power.

It’s been awhile since I’ve toted out the fact that I was raised on a junkyard, became a writer and can barf out junk metaphors like a machine. Well, anyway, that’s all true and the one thing I can say best defines junk is that junk is unwieldy and inconvenient to store. In addition, most junk also contains at least one but probably several elements of danger. Junk is pointy. Junk is abrasive. Junk seeps chemicals when you bang it around too much. All of this, according to the so-called experts, is bad for children. I’m not going to argue this point because to do so I’d actually have to read a parenting book for evidence and have you ever tried to do that? I mean, really tried?

Over the growth of our babies the more dangerous junk found its way into safer locations or was entered into the American waste disposal system where it will only endanger the children of tomorrow, or more specifically their robot great-grandchildren who will eat the junk and get even fatter. Old scissors, loose screws, poky things of all kinds were moved up from one drawer to the next and then eventually out into the garage, which is a whole other story. So for a time early in the lives of our three preschool boys, BM – which stands for, among other things, before mobility, we still had a junk drawer full of treasures like pencil erasers, plastic promotional swag and pens from businesses our grandparents owned during the 1960s. That junk drawer is no more.

As we moved all of these things, supposedly to safer locations but mostly to points unknown or at least unknown to me, the drawer in our house became occupied by the belongings of our oldest boy Henry. He started when he was 2, almost 3. What kinds of things does such a child possess that would remain uncategorized to the point of needing a junk drawer? Well, you’d be surprised. It started with coloring books. Coloring books are the bastard children of the book world. They are, technically, books but not proper enough to be seen with the books on the shelf you aren’t supposed to color. They are not art, not really; they do not represent the inner vision of the child. Instead coloring books show what color the child wished to use on the moose, or Spiderman, or the Thomas the Tank Engine. Later, Henry started adding unclassified toys, usually the inexplicable objects acquired in Happy Meals or other marketing schemes. Then came the old quasi-toys found in mom and dad’s ancient supply of 1980s playthings, too cool to toss but too uncool to hang with the trains and trucks in the real toy box.

One factor remains, however. Anytime you mess with the boy’s junk drawer he gets ticked off. Don’t you know that junk is actually stuff? Important stuff. Can’t throw that out. We didn’t teach him this truth. It is, in fact, genetic.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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