Papers & Memories

Written August 27, 2013

My grandmother, no disrespect intended, was a paper hoarder. She kept every scrap she received — cards, letters, receipts, pictures, magazines, newspaper clippings. If a distant cousin said he was interested in some arcane piece of farm equipment, chances are he would get an envelope stuffed with everything my dad’s mother found on the subject.

Vera Cook died 24 years ago — half my life, amazingly — and we are still going through paper-filled boxes that she did not part with.

For Grandmama, who religiously kept a diary for 50 years, the reasons were practical. Paper held memories. It served to document her life and the lives of family members. It provided her with opportunities for trivial pursuits, for recipes untried, for trails of doctor’s visits, fishing licenses, and utility bills. There are reminders of good times (family vacations, birthday and holiday cards) and tough times (surgeries and rationing coupon books from World War II).

Some things have legitimate value; I have a set of Cotton Bowl and other football programs dating back to the late 1920s. Others are sentimental, such as the letters and a drawing my dad sent to his parents from camp in 1951, or letters written by my grandfather to his parents and co-workers.

When my grandmother died in 1989, my aunt took on the task of gathering up the papers — an entire garage full or more, really — and starting the process of sifting through them. She sent items that she thought were relevant to my dad, who kept pieces and tossed others that held no interest.

My father, however, was definitely his mother’s son, and he kept more than he threw away.

Six years ago, my dad died, and in the process of cleaning out my parents’ house I found several boxes piled with these miscellaneous papers and scraps of family life. I had two shipped to our house, and promptly tucked them away in the basement, knowing I needed to go through them someday.

Someday turned out to be last week, when Jill started rearranging the piles in our laundry room and asked me to finally consolidate my things. A couple of days later, I went out to the garage and started to work, and then started to think about how I could at least preserve memories from a box that held 60 years of family history, a paper trail of memories and tears.

This is the result. Most of what you see here are things I’ve kept, having consolidated three boxes into 1½. They are a visual reminder of the little things that made me the person I am and the people my children will be.