Dave keeps a shoebox on his closet shelf. He uses it to put his odds and ends in, things he empties out of or puts back into his pockets whenever he changes. Every so once in a while, when I get a spring-cleaning burr under my saddle, I’ll muck out the closet – and with it, the shoebox. We collect a lot of junk in a year, but the shoebox is special. The amount of matter it contains does not answer to the laws of physics. It holds way more than an 8”x13” cardboard fold-up should be able to account for. On my last go-round of cleaning, for the edification of the anthropologists who study farmers, and to torment my in-house agriculturist, I decided I would record what I found both within and spilling out of the black hole sitting next to David’s pajama pants. For scientific accuracy, I should clarify that when I use the term “various” as a numerical indicator, it means “Michele was too lazy to count it all.” Otherwise, all numbers are to be taken at face value. I have been accused of exaggeration in this column, so I want to make it clear that this time around I’m sticking to the facts. Mostly.

Coleman michele
Michele and her husband, Dave, live in southern Idaho where they boast an extensive collection o...

Dave’s Shoebox, 2022

2 watches, both with dead batteries
Dave’s grandpa’s pocket watch
2 water tables
Various elastrators
2 syringes
Waterproofing boot wax
14 pocketknives and 1 Leatherman
2 pocketknife holsters, both without knives in them
2 new belt buckles
1 shotgun shell
12 keys for lawn mowers, tractors, locks, gas tanks and the forever unknown
8 drill bits
1 pinewood derby car
Various screws, eye hooks, washers and nails
20 silver dollars
1 leather money clip
1 magnifying glass
Endless delivery paperwork for fertilizer, chemical and feed
Business cards from tractor salesmen
1 handmade Father’s Day card from an unidentified child
Various invoices the bookkeeper would have really been interested to know about
Deposit receipts from 2016, also of interest to the bookkeeper
A receipt for an independent fencer, 2016
1 air pump needle
41 pens
1 light socket
Various matches
Dice
Various interesting rocks
Various irrigation pipe gates
Change, coins of all types
A smattering of pencils without erasers
2 gift cards to D & B Supply
1 trifold ranching pamphlet

“Dave,” I said when I showed him my haul, “I would bet that your shoebox looks about the same as it did when you were 14 years old.” I’m sure it’s true. There’s a timeless quality to the contents, things I would have found not only in Dave’s youth but on my grandpa’s shelf as well. Maybe farmers and ranchers all over the country carry in their pockets a uniting set of debris. I bet we could play a kind of southern Idaho treasure-hunt bingo. If everyone who farms didn’t have anything better to do in the spring than empty their pockets, I would hold a contest to see how many items on Dave’s list each contestant could check off. The grand prize for the most matches would be 40 of Dave’s 41 pens.

I’m just as nostalgic about coffee cans as I am about shoeboxes. My grandpa filled shelf upon shelf in his barn with red Folger’s coffee cans, all in various stages of rust. He sorted about everything smaller than a hammer into them. Penny nails. Washers. One-of-a-kind emergency parts. And he knew exactly where everything was. Unfortunately, I did not. He’d be in the middle of some time-sensitive project, doctoring a horse or propping up something heavier than all-get-out, and he’d yell, “Michele, go get the thingamajiggy out of the barn!” His needs were never loitering. It was always, “Hurry, this thing is going to give out,” or “This mare is about to let loose!” I would run to the barn all a-panic and with no time to spare, but I never, not once, knew what the thingamajiggy in question was.

“Where is it, Grandpa; what does it look like?”

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“Just on the wall there, you know, in the coffee can!”

I swear every stress dream I have has its origins in this scenario: me trying to find something I had no idea how to identify, in one of approximately 25 coffee cans, with an unseen clock of doom ticking away. The item was always something my grandpa thought I should know exactly everything about, and the longer I took searching for it, the more swear words he used to correct my sense of direction.

“No, blank it to blank, I didn’t say the blankity-blank clamp, I said the blank, blank, blank thingamajig, right next to the blanked to the blank whatcha-ma-gidget!”

There were times when I was so sure catastrophe would strike Grandpa before I could find the unfindable that I was tempted to sneak out the back stall of the barn, start running north and never look back. Not once on my first try did I ever bring back the right oil can, the correct-sized wrench, the clipper blade he had asked for or the screw, pin or nail that would fit his failing part. He would look in disbelief at whatever I had brought him, wondering how in the world I ever thought it would serve to the purpose, and shake his head and swear some more.

It’s no wonder he didn’t hold out much hope for me. I didn’t either. We both knew I was a lost cause. My only consolation is that, over the years, I have heard this exact same story from every one of his grandkids. We all get twitchy when someone sends us to pick up something. Just for the record, if you have a shoebox or a coffee can you need me to find something in, you’ll save us all time and money if you just go and get it yourself.  

Michele and her husband, Dave, live in southern Idaho where they boast an extensive collection of irrigation boots by the back door. If you can navigate the boots, the door is always open (mostly because her children don’t know how to close it, and the screen was sprung several windstorms back). But never mind that – come on in because she’d love to chat.