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The Happiness of Simple Things

By March 28, 2013September 16th, 2023No Comments

Life is best when simple things bring us pleasure. And last week I had a wonderful day, topped off by my getting a new cart.

There were a number of things I failed to anticipate when I started working at the archives. I had not been aware of how many boxes we have to move. Or of how heavy they would be. For example, next week I am getting a shipment of newspapers from California – 350 pounds worth. They will be mine to unpack, process and shelve. I had not connected “Assistant Librarian” with “weight lifter.” Now I know.

mass of carts web.jpgI also had not imagined the fixation I would develop with carts. The ones at Andersen Library may have one, two or three shelves. They come in a rainbow of colors – red, black, grey or tan. The worst are the tall skinny blue ones that carry only three boxes and tend to tip over crossing the threshold of the elevator. For serious jobs, we even have yellow plywood carts that hold 12 boxes at a time. The newest ones are some combination of orange and salmon which, sadly, is just as ugly as it sounds. I have become quite the student of carts. I confess I have gone so far as to ogle the carts of my colleagues in the elevator.

The one constant is that there are never enough carts. You often need one for each researcher and others for projects underway. I would like a dozen carts, but for now I have access to: 2 blue carts; 2 grey cars; and one deluxe three shelf red cart. The red one is new to me and my prize possession. All four wheels spin. It is well balanced, low to the ground, stable and holds 9 boxes. I thought I was in love with it. Until last week. 

cart web version.jpgThat was when I accompanied two colleagues to the University’s Reuse Center. We walked through rows of used office chairs, metal desks, metal bookcases and filing cabinets. There was a pool table, a fridge with biohazard stickers on it and some items we could not identify. In the midst of all this institutional furniture, there she was. A vintage wooden cart.


But that doesn’t really capture the character of my new love. Her shelves are covered with decades of gouges and scrapes. Only one set of wheels turns, while the other set is fixed. Her trim is loose and needs some repair. And to be honest, she squeaks. But she also has warm wooden tones, leather strips on the corners to protect against sharp edges, two brass name plates proudly proclaiming that she was built by “Library Bureau Makers” and more character than all the other carts in the library combined. She has been around the block, more than once.


She has not yet revealed her name or age to me. I think perhaps she was young in the 1940’s or 50’s. Probably her name evokes another era – Gertrude, Bertha, Ida. She isn’t sleek or flashy butshe is diligent and wise, with a solid dignity. Her depth of character makes the shiny red cart look a bit trashy and cheap. She is a survivor.shelves web version.jpg

library makers bureau web.jpg

I imagine my smile as her warmwooden tones greet me every day. I think of all the boxes we will move, all of the research we will facilitate. I anticipate the admiring looks I will get from my colleagues with my one-of-a-kind vintage wooden cart. I think this is going to be a long lasting love affair.trashy red web.jpg


Lisa Vecoli, Curator, Tretter Collection


Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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