Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sifting Through the Past

Throwing away pretty cards and lovely letters from friends and family seems such a waste to me. Being the self-appointed family historian, however, has compelled me to save far too much of this type of history. Today I feel as if I’m drowning in it.

Right now I find myself conflicted about how much of this “stuff” I need to keep for sentimental and “historic” reasons. Part of me wants to pitch the manila envelopes and file folders packed full of the past that reside in my overcrowded filing cabinet. 

During this time in our lives (meaning those of us in the over 70 set), isn’t this a time for discarding all but the essentials so our “kids” don’t inherit the task of wading through the detritus of our lives following our demise? Will these fragments of my life stuffed in folders and 3-ring binders give my children and grandchildren insight into the kind of life I’ve lived in comparison to the kind of lives they’re living? Will they have any time at all to spend reading through these epistles and well wishes of mine? I truly doubt it.

How well will my children and my children’s children ever know the “real” me? They have their own memories and may not care to consider the ones I hold dear. I want them to know what it’s like to drive to Sharpsville on Christmas Day and mix it up with aunts, uncles, and cousins in Grandma and Grandpa Thomas’s little cottage there. 

I’d like them to know about the bustle of the women all working together in Grandma’s kitchen to get Christmas dinner set out on the big table in the dining room. Oh, and the aroma of Aunt Devona’s chicken casserole and the delight at seeing Grandma’s banana cake all iced with penuche icing and waiting to be cut for dessert. There’s Aunt Imogene’s delicious apple pie and Aunt Olive’s smooth and creamy chocolate one with meringue on top. 

How will they know how it feels to hear Uncle Charles (Reverend Charles Taylor of the denomination of Methodists) intone the prayer thanking God for the food and blessing all of us gathered there? My brother and I have already opened presents at home, but after dinner at Grandma’s there will be more flurry of pretty paper ripping and bows being sorted to save. The younger kids get to pass out the presents while the adults sit back and guess who got their name in the Christmas drawing.
It seemed there were always new babies showing up every Christmas. My cousin Bob and his wife Betty had Rusty, Rickey, Donnie, Deena, and Debra. These cousins of mine still live in Indiana up around Rochester where Indiana lakes make summer getaways for weary Kokomo dwellers. 

I’ve recorded the members of our family tree on, but somehow it doesn’t seem quite the best way to convey how much I miss that rowdy bunch. For me it was a rich experience growing up among them. 

Maybe it’s impossible to share the memories and the essence of who we are and who we were then in a meaningful way. These letters, cards and family histories mean the most to me, not to those who come after me. They have their own Christmas mornings to remember, don’t they? How important is it for them to know how my life unfolded when they’re so wrapped up in watching their own unfold? 

How am I to organize all these old letters? Letters are something of a novelty these days, aren’t they? So much history evaporates with email and instant messages. Also, consider how it’s no longer a worry how much a long-distance phone call will cost or who is listening in on the party line like the one at Grandma’s house. I remember cranking that old wooden-boxed phone on the wall in Sharpsville and asking the operator to place a call to Kokomo for me. Gosh, cell phones just don’t have the same charm!

Spock where are you when I need to mind meld with my progeny? Maybe everyone wants a bit of the history of their lives to live on in the minds of their kids and grand-kids. I have always wished for that. I guess I’ll just keep on writing my memories and chuck all these letters as soon as I’ve mined them as I write an autobiography that someone someday might want to read. It’s important to learn from the past, isn’t it? I sure hope so. 

I guess what I really want is for my kids and grand-kids to treasure the lives of the people I knew as a child as much as I still do. It’s a tall order, and I’m not sure it’s attainable.Recently I read a memoir called Hillbilly Elegy. Through that book, the essence of the author’s life began to dawn on me. If I could achieve just that kind of enlightenment with a book about my life, maybe I’d feel I’d achieved the kind of mind meld I’ve always hoped would be possible.

1 comment:

Stacie Wellwood said...

Beautifully written! I love that you are the family historian, I love to read things like this and get a glimpse into what your life was like. I was just thinking last night while watching The Patriot on TV that those letters used to be so important but not so much anymore with faster ways to communicate. I love the old letters! Plus I don't recall seeing a lot of these photos! Please save a bit longer...