After my husband’s father died 16 years ago, we inherited a trunk and a heavy file cabinet chockfull of his writings. Jack, the prototypical big-city newspaper editor--cigar-chomping, taciturn, wry--moonlit composing true-crime paperbacks and articles.
These metal mausoleums idly consume prime real estate in our garage. We never delve into Jack’s parched manuscripts nor seek entertainment from his yellowing stories. It’s all we can do to stay abreast of current events, much less dig up the past.
Still, we can’t possibly bring ourselves to haul away the archives. This stuff meant a lot to Jack. Surely, chucking it would slight his memory.
And so the souvenirs of a life passed will rest in peace indefinitely--until the next generation becomes responsible for them. Then our kids, no doubt, will dump the rusty furniture without a second thought.
My own father left behind a pair of ancient cowboy spurs. No one but him, presumably, knew to whom they originally belonged. I reluctantly adopted them because, well, they must’ve been some ancestor’s. For a while, they sat on a bookshelf. In a fit of brazenness, I decided to trash the ugly, anonymous things. Nope, couldn’t do it. To a shoe box they went.
Such musings that cross my mind as I attempt to organize my home office. At present, the floor is an anxiety-inducing junkyard of contents let loose from a closet: aging newsprint, photos both published and personal, magazines, contest plaques.
Who will ever again read my 1995 Cosmo feature about mainland bachelorettes looking for love in Alaska? Certainly not I. What’s on all these film negatives? Mike doesn’t even use negatives anymore. But they’re keepsakes, one and all!
As the walls close around me--with miscellany tucked into every nook and cranny--I have vowed to take control. If I can’t discard, at least I can crate.
Vastly underestimating, I purchased a half dozen plastic bins at Target. The next day, I went back for more. And I swear I could use another 20 to whip this place in shape.
Hmm. Christmas card photos of other people’s kids, many of whom I’ve never even met. Into a Rubbermaid tub they go. Gobs of letters I wrote my grandmother, from first grade up. How cute that she saved them all. Better carry the torch.
Little books of meaningful prose gifted me by various high school friends. Rod McKuen. Remember him? Desiderata... “You are a child of the universe.” Remember that? College essays. Cardboard angel wings I wore in a preschool nativity scene. They’ve lasted this long--I can’t get rid of them now!
My husband’s childhood memorabilia pales in volume next to mine. Report cards on which nuns tattled, “Michael talks too much in class.” Birthday greetings to and from his parents. None of this holds the historical significance of my biographical material. However, it might hurt Mike’s feelings if I preserve my artifacts while jettisoning his. Not that he’d ever notice.
Then there’s the unwieldy, unsentimental non-paper items: empty camera cases, nameless cords, cellphone accessories--probably for phones long gone. Ink cartridges definitely for printers long gone, but they weren’t cheap--shouldn’t we give them to someone? Much as I’d like to, I just can’t chuck this dreck.
Of course, we’re obligated to retain the dreariest information on Earth: tax records. Office and school supplies comprise other boxes, one of which is devoted purely to large envelopes--a surplus resulting from my failure to take inventory.
Most precious and prodigious are the CURRENT children’s documentation: artwork, fiction, funny notes, band programs, team photos, Santa Claus wish lists, Valentines, poetry. No way any of those treasures go. Erin and Matt already get a kick out of a short trip down memory lane--and probably still will as the lane grows longer.
Theirs are the only mementos destined to survive beyond Mike and me--unless our children, as do we, suffer a pack-ratish sense of duty. If so, someday their lucky kids will be sorting through 75-year-old Daily Breeze columns and a mysterious set of cowboy spurs.