There are eight of us -- four couples -- who meet for dinner at the Black Duck on a Friday night once every spring, summer, fall, and winter. All of us are parents of former Staples football players, and our quarterly mini-reunions are our attempt at keeping alive the long-standing tradition of celebrating Wreckers victories at The Duck. Beer ... wine ... chili ... burgers ... how can you beat that?

All eight of us also happen to be nouveau empty-nesters, so I'm sure you have a pretty good idea of what our conversations sound like.

How are the boys doing? Sure, we miss having `em around -- but all that free time ain't too shabby! Any good vacations coming up? Who are you seeing for your herniated disk? How do the Wreckers look for next fall? Is it really possible that Westport is still talking about full-day kindergarten?

Inevitably, we get around to the topic of downsizing. We all see these moves coming, and we wonder how we're going to deal with the cartons. Seems pretty much all of us are pack-rats. We've saved the kids' homework. We've saved the birthday cards they made for us. We've saved their class pictures. We've saved their first sneakers, and their first cleats. Their trophies. Their awards. Their diplomas. Their Staples football helmets.

M. is the only one of us who has actually sold her house, and who actually has begun downsizing. She described to us exactly what happened when she encountered six cartons of her two sons' artwork in the basement: She considered them for maybe half a second, she said, before thrusting two thumbs down, like a Roman emperor determining the fate of a gladiator: "Nope!" Then, as if she were an ump tossing an unruly ballplayer, she jerked one thumb back and said, "Out!"

In fairness, M. is a realtor. She's been through this downsizing, by proxy, dozens of times. She's also, by nature, a no-nonsense pragmatist. We all know that. But still. Her kids' artwork?

According to T., her husband, it gets worse. When T. was born some 50-plus years ago, his mom received one particularly beautiful bouquet of flowers from a very dear friend. She passed the planter down to T., who'd saved it all these decades. Recently, T. looked on as M. tossed it.

T. rummaged through the garbage, rescued the planter, and snuggled it back into the garage. A few days ago he went to have a look. Too late. M. had found it in the garage. Two thumbs down. "Nope!" One thumb back. "Out!" She tossed it again. This time the planter was gone for good.

At this point we started referring to M. as The Tin Man -- as in heartless -- but we were impressed. Rapt, we listened to the story of the garden hoses.

T. had been to one of those soccer car washes maybe 10 years ago, and at clean-up time, he saw nine garden hoses in the trash can. He said to the dad in charge, "These hoses are perfectly good. You can't just throw them out!"

"You want `em?" the guy said. "Take `em."

So T. did. They've been in his garage ever since. Until M. saw them there last week. Down went two thumbs. "Nope!" Up and back went the umpire thumb. "Out!"

The rest of us were fascinated, until M. told us about the boys' PAL football jackets. J., the staunchest football fan in the group, was apoplectic. "You threw out their PAL football jackets??!!"

Yup, said M. And their trophies, too.

"You threw out their trophies??!!" J. was all but screaming. Now M. had gone too far.

"But I saved their championship rings," M. added, with a wink, "because that's like jewelry."

Aha. Now we know there's at least something that's safe from The Tin Man's "Nope!/Out!" call. And we also know who to call when it's time for downsizing.

"The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank's adventures with his dog, Ricky, on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: To reach Hank, e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.