A place for everything, and everything in its place


Do you know what I miss?

Other than coffee served in real cups with saucers, newspaper pages that when opened up spread out to a wingspan of a full yard, talk shows with hosts like Johnnie Carson and Merv Griffin, lunch counters in drug stores and S&H Green Stamp redemption centers?

In addition to those things and a good many others, I miss card catalogs.

You know, those big, bulky chest-of-drawer type contraptions in libraries with dozens of narrow, long drawers full of index cards.

I wish I’d paid better attention when libraries jettisoned all their card catalogs and moved in computers to replace them.  Because I’d have tried to end up with one of those unique pieces of furniture.

And what, you might ask, would I do with one if I had it?

Here’s your answer:  I’d organize.

I used to be a great organizer.  When I was a boy in the East Texas piney woods I fancied myself a fisherman, and my tackle box was a wonder of perfect organization. Down to a perfectly oiled filet knife, which I never used except to constantly untangle my Zebco reel. Alas, I was considerably better at arranging lures, hooks, and bobbers than I was at catching fish.

Over the years I’ve let that “everything in its place” philosophy backslide, and an old card catalog might set me right. I’d store knickknacks in its drawers, things that now reside haphazardly in my desk, my dresser, and especially in one kitchen drawer – everybody has one, I think – where stuff goes to die.  Like old measuring tapes, open packs of chewing gum, odd screws and nails,  bits of picture wire, and some things that are unrecognizable but might be important.

I’d carefully print labels for the little metal window slots on the front of each drawer.  “Rubber Bands” would go on one, though it’s unlikely we’d ever accumulate enough rubber bands to fill up a 3 inch by 5 inch space nearly two feet long.  Another card would proclaim “Safety Pins”. We have hundreds, many hundreds, of safety pins in one corner of a drawer in our bathroom, and every time we come home from the dry cleaners we add several more. Though I can’t, at the moment, remember when I’ve taken one out and used it. Other labels would read “Bank Statements”, “Receipts”, “Insurance Stuff”, and any number of other categories representing things that I never seem to be able to locate when I need them.  A couple of the drawers would surely be the repository of pennies that now fill up a couple of shoe boxes.  Then, after all that sorting and placing, anything left over but not deserving of its own cubicle would be relegated to several “Miscellaneous” drawers.

At the high school where I’ve taught for a long time we used to have a handsome quartet of card catalogs in the library.  They were about four and a half feet tall and were butted up against each other so as to point their drawers in four different directions.  Their purpose was, of course, to provide a reference guide for every book in the library.  But, since they were just the right height for leaning, they came in handy for something else.

For years the good ladies who ran that library and I leaned over those catalogs and talked about all manner of things every morning when we had our coffee.  It was our gossip fence.  Since I’d been sequestered in my classroom for a couple of hours before that, they sometimes caught me up, in those pre-cell phone days, on what had happened in the outside world that morning.  I learned that the Titanic had been found while standing there, that President Reagan had ordered the invasion of Granada (whereupon we pulled down a big atlas and found Granada), and that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded shortly after takeoff.

So, I have a real fondness for card catalogs, and I wish I owned one. One reason might be that I, as I already admitted, am oftentimes not as organized as I once was.  And a piece of furniture with multiple cubbyholes seems a perfect place to herd some of my stuff into their proper places.

That, and the fact that it would look darned nice in my home library with a potted plant on top of it alongside some books that I intend to get to. One of them would be Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, all 800 plus pages in nearly infinitesimal print that’s been staring patiently at me for decades.  If that book weren’t so darned huge, it would go in its own drawer behind a label that reads “Someday”.

(Part of this was in a newspaper article in some yesteryear)


4 thoughts on “A place for everything, and everything in its place

  1. I miss card catalogs too. We use them as an analogy in a corporate training class I teach but over the years, the audience has lost all connection to them. Part of my fondness for them goes back to my 7th grade, when my grades earned me the opportunity to help the librarians. After proving myself by reshelving books, they eventually allowed me to pull and replace cards in the card cataog. It was an important job and I took it very seriously. I live the idea in the photo best though. A card catolog would make an awesome wine rack.


  2. I remember writing a story for the newspaper at Sam Houston when I was a young college student. The Newton Gresham Library was abandoning the card catalog system for something called the “InfoTrac” system — a computerized catalog of information my husband (then boyfriend) and I did not view with positive attitudes. In 1985, computers were still foreign and unapproachable in a lot of ways. English majors did not use them for writing or research, so removing our beloved card catalog was akin to a death in the family.

    It still bothers me card catalogs have been removed. When computer systems go down, when the power goes out, the card catalog never fails the determined soul in search of knowledge.


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