The Detritus of our Lives


Illustration of a dispersive prism decomposing white light into the colours of the spectrum, as discovered by Newton (from Wiki).


I can’t watch. That’s David standing behind me as I clean his workbench. A workbench is a place where one makes and fixes household items.  David’s work bench has been repository for every project undertaken during the entire 34 years we’ve been married.

Because he built some nice things for me, including my garden shed, bookcases and other items, I encouraged him to carve out a space or  “workshop” from our former den. Little did I know what this would mean.

Born in 1929, making him a child of the Depression, David has never thrown anything away.  He’s had the workbench since the 1950s. He says he put it in storage when he was stationed in Germany with NATO and while he lived in student housing at UNC. He moved it many times.  When we met he had stored it in his lockup. Somehow, I never noticed.  After I finished cleaning it yesterday, the load of junk we hauled to the trash bin must have weighed 200 pounds.  He thanked me for clearing it.


Years ago, while I taking a class in the history of science I mentioned Newton to David (a retired electrical engineer). Sir Isaac Newton was a pioneer in western science who discovered the nature of the energy-light spectrum as reflected in the rainbow.

I had a “show and tell” one evening and decided to talk about how the Catholic Church had fostered western science (although Protestant propaganda, particularly in the South, would lead you to believe otherwise).

My paper and talk described how the European Cathedrals the Church constructed, beginning in the tenth century, were really huge sundials designed to measure and predict the annual course of the sun.  The objective was to establish the dates of the moveable feasts like Easter.

I asked David to read my paper and offer comments, whereupon he became very excited and retrieved a box containing beautiful wires of every color of the rainbow from his workshop.  What are they? I asked.

“Resisters” he answered, “I used these to repair radios when I was in high school. These were remainders from WWII WALKIE-TALKIES.”

I took the box of resisters to class and used it for my talk along with the slide show I had emailed to my professor who loaded it in his computer ready for the class discussion.

My talk covered:

1/ attempts by the Church to trace the movement of the sun and stars, using ocelli, gnomon and median strips in cathedrals

2/Newton in the sixteenth century who ascertained that a white light when it passes through a prism breaks into the color spectrum,

3/a handfull of David’s resistors.

After showing the class the wires and explaining how they were used (if you have electricity, you have them in your house), a classmate whispered to me, “Is your husband a packrat?

Well, I ask you, doesn’t everyone have something from WWII in their house?



18 thoughts on “The Detritus of our Lives

  1. i understand the part about packrats and collectors — and the fact that you accomplished a miracle getting the workshop cleaned up as well as you did. Congratulations. The part of your post that I don’t comment on (as I am sure you could already guess) I do not even pretend to understand.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My Other Half has a workshop at the back of the garage, with a workbench and multitudinous cupboards and shelves. I cannot imagine ever being able to clean it out. But I can dream . . . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My Dad had a workbench like that. He reused everything, depression era child.
    I still have my ration book from WW2. Born in ’42 I don’t have memories of the time except one of the black curtains that were hung up over the windows to block the light at night. Seattle was a ringed by military installations, still is come to think of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I too was born in 1942. I remember the soldiers guarding the TVA dam where my granddad worked (near Mussel Shoals), many many convoys of military vehicles with their lights blazing, the paratroopers (Screaming Eagles) practicing at Fort Bragg before D-Day, rationing. David remembers Pearl Harbor, the announcement from FDR declaring war, D-Day, and the rest. His brother was in Europe and he wanted to join, but his dad would not sign the papers.


  4. The part of my brain that understands science and math is woefully underdeveloped. But I am in awe of it all and am addicted to all the science programs on TV. Problem is, I forget what I’ve learned the next day.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve always known many priests in early times were also scientists and the Catholic Church was never opposed to the wonders and eons of time involved in the universe nor evolution for that matter in most instances. It is the fundamentalist Protestant churches, especially in the south, that can put other more “enlightened” churches all in the same “pot”. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Getting rid of stuff is always a good feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

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