by Kent Sterling
There are gatherers, and there are hoarders. I live in the middle. Anything with even a shred of emotional value gets a place in a box, to be disturbed only when we move or when capacity is reached in the attic or garage.
We are at capacity after the move back from St. Louis, so the time has come to sift through memories. My Mom moved a few years ago, and she threw out whatever I didn’t take, so I took most everything. That was a mistake as now I have the same problem.
My Dad saved everything, including every letter he wrote me when I was in college. He kept lists of the names of my wife’s siblings and their birth years. He kept odd commentaries on old friends and acquaintances. He had sheet after sheet of the real names of celebrities who adopted a stage name. There are files everywhere with grade sheets and receipts detailing my collegiate experience. There are newspaper clippings from letters to the editor I wrote, and my high school stuff that he felt compelled to retain.
Going through them every decade or so brings equal parts glee and misery. Two things always stick in my mind – Dad was very funny, and raising a person as odd as I was must have been a challenge.
One letter from my freshman year is fairly typical:
You told your Mother that the gas tank in the Pontiac was one quarter full. When I checked it this evening, there wasn’t enough to get her to work and back tomorrow. I put $10.00 worth in the car so she could get to work. You know that this does not make me happy. There will be rules when you get home from school.
Good Luck. Love,
There was some other stuff in there about school finances. In another letter, Dad wrote some nice things about my latest report card saying that one of two things must have happened to cause a turnaround for the better. “Either Julie has been a great influence, or you were hit in the head by a brick. Call your Mother and tell her which it was.”
Reading through the letters made me laugh, but reminded me how difficult I found life in college. Sitting in a lecture hall learning whatever pap was being dispensed by the academic twits who gave about 20% effort in teaching us was not productive for me. Others seemed to revel in learning about sociology. I did not. My skepticism didn’t allow the interpretation of meaningless facts and perspective, so Mom and Dad kept writing checks, and I drifted.
Thinking about that is not fun for me, and so while the laughs at Dad’s ability to communicate bluntly were enjoyable, the memories of an unpleasant and mediocre academic life are painful. Keeping these mementos seems counterproductive, so I am going to purge. Boxes filled with reminders of my frustration and the frustration I caused others seem ripe for pitching, and so I will.
Why Dad made copies of all the letters he wrote is anyone’s guess. Why I would protect them is a more relevant question, and I’m choosing not to.
We all mature and grow through our adolescence, and the process of becoming an adult can have some ugly moments. Most of us create some distance between our past selves and who we are. Many have a romanticized version of that time. Some had no negative issues at all. I have boxes of files that remind me in very precise detail the awkward and uncomfortable kid I was.
Remembering Dad and celebrating his memory doesn’t need to involve the maintenance of hundreds of documents and trinkets. I’m going to do today what Dad should have done a long time ago, decide that some things aren’t worth remembering in exact detail. My romanticized view of college will do quite nicely, thanks.
As for the files on the legal action of Vic and Lucille Lauer against our family for sump pump spillage on to their property, those go too.
I’m putting my memory on a diet.