The Off Season: Old soldiers never die…

Mike LunsfordThey’ve seen many battles: Columnist Mike Lunsford couldn’t part with his childhood soldiers, so they’ve been moved to a box labeled “Mike’s Toys.”

Joanie and I are the children of the children of the Great Depression. Our parents and their parents grew up saving things, storing things, stacking up and packing away things, because they just might be needed or wanted, by somebody, someday…

Surely, we all had a grandma who couldn’t bear to throw an old calendar or catalog away, a mother who wiped down and re-used aluminum foil, a grandfather or dad who kept “doodads” and “thingamabobs” in old coffee cans and halved milk jugs. We grew up with “junk drawers” and full closets and cardboard boxes under our beds. We had no garage when I was a boy, but if we had, it would have been full.

Because of these nearly genetic predispositions, Joanie and I have saved and stored and packed too, but we are at a point where we now realize that we have far too much, and some of it has to go somewhere else before it simply becomes a burden to our children. It is going to be a long and difficult thinning process.

Of course, much of what we have tucked away — most likely sealed in totes and taped in boxes and twist-tied into garbage bags — already belongs to our kids, adults now with houses and lives, and hopefully, bare storage sheds and empty closets of their own. Resistant in the past to taking on much of the accumulation themselves, we saw a vital crack in their defenses when my son innocently suggested that as we pulled our Christmas decorations out this winter, that perhaps we could look for his old Lego sets so his two boys could have them.

He should have kept his mouth shut.

As we do each first weekend of December, we began the arduous and tiring task of digging out Christmas lights and wrapping paper and gift boxes, my wife’s snowman collection, wreaths, garlands and sleds, and the three artificial trees I put up in the yard. We have too many decorations, most unused now, and Joanie said with grim determination that what wasn’t being put out or lit up this year wasn’t going back into the storage barn.

So, with her playing the role of Hiram Bigham at Machu Pichu, I opened our storage shed attic and stood by as she braved a few cobwebs and dark corners and unearthed a cardboard box labeled: “Lego Sets.” But she was far from finished; nearby, she saw a few totes with our daughter’s name on them, a box or two titled, “Remote-Controlled Cars,” and another, boldly tagged, “Army Men.” With more yet to explore, but our decorations strewn on the field of battle and in need of attention, we set aside four containers for our daughter, and quite a few more for our son. I immediately loaded the latter into my truck and delivered them to him within the half-hour. Wisely, I handed him the box of Legos first; then, while he was preoccupied, I quietly dropped my tail gate...

I kept the soldiers. Most were mine anyway, left over from childhood days when virtually every toy I owned was stowed under my bed in a single cardboard box. I had given them to my son years ago, but in a moment of nostalgia I told Joanie I wanted to sort through the boxes and look for the oldest, those in service now well over a half-century, battle-tested, scarred from a thousand summer afternoons, battered and broken and dirty and unforgettable.

I spent part of an evening sorting through the box, and although many of my favorite soldiers had been scattered to the wind or buried in the trenches of our back yard years ago, some had survived their boxed and silent bivouac in storage. Among them, a few hand-painted cavalry men who fought near my plastic Fort Apache stockade, a few more from a Civil War set, forever dressed in blue and gray, and still more, inspired by the hours I spent in front of our television watching “Combat.” The troops included a pair of grimy GIs that looked remarkably like Ric Jason and Vic Morrow; I even had a few Nazis left.

I told Joanie that I just couldn’t let them go, and she promptly labeled a new box, “Mike’s Toys.”

Our grandsons visit us a few days a week; just long enough to deplete our snacks and ransack our house. While the older spends his mornings in pre-school, the younger occupies his time playing with trains, begging for oatmeal, and chattering like a woodpecker. A few days ago, I walked into our spare bedroom to see him and his grandmother sitting on the floor, reading a book amid a pile of wooden blocks and wrecked tractors.

As I grabbed his bare ankles, he reacted to my cold hands. “He needs long socks,” I told Joanie. “Maybe we should buy him some, long winter ones, when we go into town today.”

She nodded, but a light bulb popped on in her head and she said, “Wait, I have some already. I think they’re in the back closet; I bought them years ago.”

Well, we can’t just get rid of everything…

You can contact Mike Lunsford at; his webpage is at He will be speaking and signing books at the Sullivan County Public Library on Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m.

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