Friday, April 07, 2006

Inheriting the Memorabilia Gene

Religion consists in believing that everything which happens is extraordinarily important. Cesare Pavese

At our writers group yesterday we took up the subject of the tug of war that goes on between spouses. My suspicions were reinforced that many spouses have this tug of war: "You are messy so I will straighten your mess out. No, you are the messy one. Leave my well-organized, important stuff alone."

The house my parents bought had a two story barn and another outbuilding we euphemistically named "the studio." In the studio went my father’s boxes of clippings and his art supplies. The barn was the carriage house kind of barn found in towns. Into it went my father’s woodworking paraphernalia. My mother didn’t keep tidy drawers; she stuffed them full. Only one of these was called "the messy drawer." "Where is the such and such?" "Look in the messy drawer." I too established a messy drawer in my house.

Their new house began to fill up with books. My dad made brick and board bookcases everywhere. It is difficult, if not impossible, to have a tidy, dust-free house when you have many books. When my brother was lugging all the books out of the house, he discovered that the dust had become like pieces of felt.

The boxes of my father’s clippings, cut from magazines, were meant to provide him with prototypes for his watercolors. When his friends moved us into the new house, they were full of jokes about how happy they were to be moving the clippings for the last time. I don’t know what happened to those clippings. I too have clippings, a large file cabinet full, plus boxes and boxes, stored in the basement in what I call "the archives room." There are interesting articles about far eastern Russia, the Silk Road, religion, interviews with writers, stories from the New Yorker, quotations I liked. Every time anyone of us was in the newspaper, I clipped that too.

My mother kept our school papers, especially arithmetic. I have been going through them. I can’t bear to throw them out, but of what earthly use are they? During the war years, the teacher cut 8X10 paper into small pieces. I feel warm and fuzzy towards the grade one Nancy Ruth who struggled to contain her name and date within the confines of those tiny pieces of paper. I too saved memorabilia from my children’s school years.

Gradually we have become the repository for the papers of both my husband’s and my families. Some years ago I inherited a trunk that had belonged to my paternal grandmother. Inside were a 100 letters, memorabilia, two diaries, and many clippings cut from newspapers, including jokes and cartoons: a treasure trove. I typed all the letters and diaries into the computer so my cousins could have copies. I have all the letters my mother wrote to me, and some day I will transcribe those too.

I solved part of the problem of what to do with all this stuff by donating my archives pertaining to artists and writers I have known to the university library, 28 banker boxes full. Lucky them.

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