Writings by Cole Huffman

Everything We Own

The best tale in Finn Murphy’s The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road is of moving “Mr. Big” into a 25-million-dollar mansion in Aspen, Colorado. Eight bedrooms. Eleven bathrooms. Olympic-size pool in the basement.

Mr. Big wouldn’t let the movers use any of the bathrooms. This despite the fact that executive VIP movers bring cleaning supplies to leave a place spotless behind them. But Mr. Big insisted they use a portapotty across the street where his tennis court was being built.

That was only one of the ways he gave his movers no consideration as people. He looked down on them and they felt it. Inside of the 25 crates holding Mr. Big’s fine art collection were eight 600-pound pieces of granite, the headstones of Chinese emperors. Mr. Big made sure the movers understood each one cost him $85,000. He had eight pedestals custom built in his gallery to showcase them.

What he couldn’t have imagined was that Finn Murphy, before he dropped out of his liberal arts college in Maine, took Chinese for a semester. Movers and restaurant workers are two professions you don’t want to treat like dirt. They have access to your food and your stuff. Because Mr. Big treated Finn Murphy and his crew like philistines, Murphy directed them to install the headstones upside down, knowing Mr. Big couldn’t read Chinese. Sooner or later, Mr. Big would host a cocktail party and brag about his slabs to someone who did. Who’s the philistine now?

I read Finn Murphy’s book as accompaniment to our move. Moving seems to me a 3D experience in dislocation, dignifying, and diligence.

We moved to Collierville from Germantown. Hardly dislocating. But to uproot a home from one house to the next means most everything you own goes into boxes. Every bed gets disassembled. The familiar rhythm of home is disrupted for a time. If there’s ever a time to throw around the word “discombobulate,” moving is that time.

By dignifying, I mean treating your hired movers well. Those men who pull up in the truck to clean out your house are strangers to you, but everything you own will pass through their hands in the course of about 12 hours. They’ll get their sweat on your furniture. They might ding a side table or scratch a wall. We want them to be professional, but they’re also human beings working a hard job.

After reading The Long Haul, I especially wanted to be good to our movers. I try to be good to anyone I hire anyway, but I wanted them to know I appreciated them as men, not just movers. Ask about their families. Offer them pizza. (“A worker’s appetite works for him,” Prov. 16:26.) Affirm their hard work for the good it did my family. If God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid, as Martin Luther famously put it, he is also settling us into the new place he has provided through the vocation of the movers.

The diligence in our three-dimensional moving experience is my wife’s. I have never known a harder worker than Lynn. Before the move I would come home each day to more boxes throughout the house. Like a czar of cardboard, Lynn knew what to pack and where to put it.

Lynn also touched up walls and finished flooring the laundry room for the new residents of our old house. She enjoys the accomplishment of the work. One week into our new house most everything was unpacked and in place, and then she began painting the walls with her colors. Her diligence kept the transition of our home from feeling chaotic. (“She looks well to the ways of her household,” Prov. 31:27.)

An old preaching bromide puts it that you’ve never seen a U-Haul behind a hearse. Thanks to this Internet image, now you have. I put an identical U-Haul behind my truck to aid our move, putting bicycles and lawn equipment in it, and other bulky garage items the movers can’t or don’t like to pack. Since we had the trailer, we moved our oldest daughter to Florence the same weekend. Everything she owns fit in that trailer with a little room to spare.

A cynic can fit everything we own into one syllable: stuff. It’s easy when moving to dismissively wonder why we have so much stuff. We could all do just fine with less, but we are unavoidably a people of place and possessions. Life is not about accruing stuff, of course. But so long as God does not have to pry our fingers loose of anything, he made the world with this in mind for us—that we would rent and own, toss stuff and keep stuff, move out and move on.

I was asked if I was sentimental about leaving the house our kids were little in the longest. Not really. It was a good place while it was ours, the neighbors there were great, and my commute was shorter. All change involves loss and, as Louise DeSalvo wrote in a book called On Moving, packing up a house is a full-scale life inspection. Occasionally this is good to undergo.

That inspection now completed, boxes crushed and left curbside for the recycler, I’m thankful to say the things most valuable to us don’t go into boxes and transcend street address. I didn’t mind relocating so much, but wouldn’t mind to never do it again.

The only remaining thing to do is find out if I can be buried in the backyard.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 1:53 PM
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