Barry Smith: Tonsils in a jar |

Barry Smith: Tonsils in a jar

Right now, as a way to gain inspiration for this column, I’m looking at my tonsils.

And no, I don’t have an intricate mirror/flashlight configuration going on. My tonsils are in a jar, sitting on my desk.

What sort of inspiration could one gain from gazing at such a thing? Funny, that’s what I’m wondering, too.

My tonsils have been in this little jar for over 30 years, placed there back in the days when they would send kids home with a real-live souvenir of their tonsillectomy. I haven’t been in a hospital lately, but I think it’s a safe bet that they don’t send you packing with a little jar of toxic waste as a way of saying, “We appreciate your business.”

But there they are, and I can assure you that the years have not been kind to them.

The jar was originally filled with what I assume was formaldehyde, and the cute little dispensable nodules floated happily in that solution for years before it eventually dissolved. This jar made me the king of show and tell in my day, but now I am ? or so I have been told ? too old for show and tell, so when I bring out the tonsils to show my guests I’m not greeted with the same awe-struck faces that I once was. What a shame that so many adults lose their sense of wonder.

When I read, a few years back, that someone tried to sell their kidney on eBay, I thought that maybe I’d try to unload my tonsils there. Granted, the kidney offered for sale was a working one, still thriving inside of a living body, and my tonsils are gross, little, dried-out nublets festering away in a not-very-well-sealed specimen jar. But it’s eBay ? somebody out there must be willing to give me a hundred bucks for them, right?

Of course, shortly after the kidney went up for bid ? and long before I was able to take a digital picture of my tonsils that I felt really did them justice ? the shortsighted eBay attorneys declared the auctioning off of body parts an unacceptable practice in their global bazaar.

Who am I kidding? It was hard enough to part with them the first time, so I certainly wouldn’t be able to let them go again, no matter how hot of a bidding war they would have caused.

When my mother’s father died, 30 or so years ago, she had his boots mounted in a rustic display box. He was a gnarly old farmer guy, and my mother felt that his well-worn cowboy boots were a nice, authentic reminder of her father.

A few years later my mother died, and the boot case was mine. I toted it around for a few years, or, more accurately, left it stored in someone else’s attic for a few years, until I finally removed the boots from the glass case. Then I stored the boots in my own attic for a few years.

I only have faint memories of this particular grandfather, and none of them have much to do with his choice of footwear. So with each passing year these boots became just another item to move from place to place.

Yesterday I put them in a Dumpster. They were far too worn to place in the second-hand loop, plus there were holes drilled in the bottom during the display-case mounting process. And even if they would have fit me, there’s no way I could ever get away with wearing cowboy boots.

So, into the Dumpster they went. No disrespect to the memory of my elders, just a detachment from the physical and an honoring of where memories really live. As they disappeared over the Dumpster’s edge I actually felt a sense of relief, a cosmic letting-go.

And yet, before me are my tonsils. A relic of a bygone era of me. A useless time capsule of my personal journey.

The only practical use for this artifact that I can imagine would be that of a natural appetite suppressant ? the mere mention of my tonsil jar triggers the gag reflex of those who have had the displeasure of looking at it. Yet the idea of putting this giblet-in-a-jar in a Dumpster is unthinkable. I still think they’re cool.

Thank God I didn’t have my appendix removed during that same hospital visit.

So back the tonsils go, back in the shoe box with the kazoo, the Zippo, the Wacky Pack stickers, the tiny pocket knife, the yo-yo and my high school diploma. A box of three-dimensional memorabilia marked “Stuff,” one that I’ll lug through life until an intense wave of Zen detachment coincides with a trip to the Dumpster.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to see my tonsils, I’ll gladly fetch them from my attic. Really, it’ll just take a second.

[Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Monday and Thursday. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at]

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