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Trash or treasure? U-Haul thieves likely haven’t a clue

Somewhere in Pierce County there are people unpacking boxes of pictures, medals and World War II mementos collected and saved as sacred from an American soldier, my uncle, who fought on continents far from his own.

Somewhere in Pierce County there are people unwrapping dishes and platters that served a family for four generations: tea cups and saucers used at showers and funerals, and a bowl with a crack down the middle that held a fiery Italian woman’s meat sauce matched by none.

Somewhere in Pierce County there are people deciding what to do with my aunt’s cedar chest, the one that held the baby blankets and baptismal gowns, and the steamer trunk my great grandmother brought over from Sweden.

No doubt these people are puzzled by the assortment of goods they stole. Who keeps an old Royal typewriter? They must wonder about the Model-T Ford rims and the railroad paraphernalia.

Certainly they will pawn the camera equipment and other items that will fetch a quick dollar, but the rest? Well, they’re going to have to make an appearance on “Antique Roadshow” to find out if the cargo they stole from my rented U-Haul is trash or treasure.

For me, of course, it was all treasure. It belonged to my uncle who now lives in an assisted living facility in San Diego.

At 93 years of age, he was a child of the Depression, so there wasn’t much he threw away; there wasn’t much he didn’t see a potential use for.

I knew about the stuff he really valued, because for the last 30 years he’s ended every conversation by reminding me not to forget the pump organ he restored, the Grandfather clock, the table my cousin made...

“I won’t,” I’d tell him. I won’t.

It should have been my cousins’ job to go through his things, but in a cruel, cruel turn, both my cousins were dead by age 25. My cousin Wayne died on a motorcycle. His beautiful sister Denise was murdered two years later. They were my aunt and uncle’s only children.

For the past month, I’ve been cleaning their childhood home. I stood in their bedrooms, largely untouched, and felt again the impact of their absence. Wayne was a champion collegiate golfer on scholarship. Denise was the best speller in her sixth grade class and had a smile that could out twinkle a Christmas tree.

I rented a U-haul to take their things home with me and as luck would have it, I had a very capable driver. My daughter’s friend, Joseph Connelly, was going to be finishing his solo bike ride from Canada to Mexico.

I offered him a ride back home to Tacoma and he accepted, but then I had a better idea: Why not ask Joseph to drive a U-haul making it possible for me to bring my uncle’s things home?

Joseph made the trip back up to Tacoma just fine. He parked the U-haul in front of his house and in the middle of the night someone broke into it and stole it. It was found empty 12 hours later.

This means that somewhere in Pierce County someone is opening up a box of photographs. In it they will find a picture of a young girl taken in 1918. She is wearing a sailor suit. She is holding a grey kitten on her lap. In the year that picture was taken, this young girl will meet a World War l vet, she will marry him and have his son, my uncle.

The people who see this picture will not know how important that young girl is, but I do. She was my beloved grandmother, and it is this loss, this violation, I grieve the most.

But there is a codicil to this sad story: Before Joseph left San Diego with the U-haul, we celebrated his momentous ride over a big Mexican dinner and I asked him what the best part of his 2k mile, 27 day journey was; he said without hesitation the people he met along the way.

Though my uncle’s memory is fading fast, I know if he were asked the same question, he would give the same answer.

It's not about the U-Haul, I say through my tears. It's not about the U-haul.

Karen Irwin of Tacoma teaches writing at Clover Park Technical College. Email her at irwinkd@yahoo.com.