Lock the door, but don't throw away that key

You run ahead and open the front door," Mom said, and tossed me her key chain. I thought I'd landed a lunker. I flipped through the keys, fiddling and jamming each one in the lock.

"What in the world do all these keys go to?" I asked. "This thing could dislocate your steering column."

"I have no idea what half those keys go to," she said.

"Then throw them away."

"I can't. I have no idea what half those keys go to."

Like many of us, Mom suffers from major key buildup. It's hard to throw away a perfectly good key, even if you no longer own the door. The more doors you've opened, the worse the problem. The key chain grows until you're lugging around a 10-pound chunk of keys and look like the head maintenance guy for the Hound Dog Resort. Some people with major key buildup switch to a key ring that goes on their hip. At this point, you don't need to lift weights at the gym. You can buff your biceps simply by flexing all your spare keys.

I, too, am leery of pitching keys. I still have the skeleton key from the house where I grew up, although a key was unnecessary. The door's pathetic lock could have been picked by any kid with a bobby pin.

I have car keys from vehicles that didn't even deserve a lock. I could have posted a "steal me" sign on these clunkers and had no takers. I have a key to a door that burned down and keys from sisters' long-forgotten houses from other states and marriages.

Only the keys survive. A key is indestructible and non-biodegradable. It can't be shredded or chopped into confetti like a checkbook or credit cards. You wouldn't make a nickel recycling a key. And you don't want to sell a key at a garage sale, even though the chances are remote that the new owner could find the proper door. Still, there's something unsettling about your former keys in a weird pocket.

In fact, the only solution is to keep the keys. A quart jar of orphan keys sits in my kitchen cabinet, and several unidentified keys dangle on my chain.

I used to think that multikeyed people were more important than single-keyed people and had something plush on the other side of their doors. Nah. In most cases, they've just owned or rented more houses and cars and have a severe case of major key buildup - and pretty good-looking biceps, too.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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