The Things We Keep

Last week I pictured several books for my continuing education on the Black experience. Like many books of history, some of the information in these books was gleaned from letters and diaries. That these books were written by slaves who had been taught to read and write, defying the laws back then, shows the power and importance of the written word.

Several weeks ago my youngest son came looking for something in his old room. He’s been out of the house for 13 years, he’s married, has a little guy of his own, and another that’s due any day now. But his closet here is still full of his stuff. His siblings have similar closets here, too. It will all go away . . . eventually. While he was looking for something specific, he was already pitching some of that stuff into trash bags.

We visited while a pair of binoculars with a broken lens, a cheap microscope, cd cases without cds and a few other odds and ends found their way to the bottom of a white draw-string plastic bag. When he got to his high school and college papers I questioned him. ‘Do you really want to toss your award certificates?’ He just rolled his eyes and said he really wasn’t into saving paper. He of the minimalist generation.

As he gathered and tossed, he talked about ridding and shredding paper, how all of his correspondence (except cards from me!), bills, everything is electronic. I see the value in most of that, but also the loss. I thought of the history that is revived and revealed through letters, diaries, the everyday notes and pencil scratches.

My maternal grandma worked on our genealogy and traced our family back to the 1500s. This was back in the 1970s before computers and DNA could practically pinpoint the neighborhood where our ancestors grew up. I still have letters from her family who wrote about buying yards of percale for new curtains, how the weather was affecting their work, the telegram telling her to return home because her mom was sick. Grandma didn’t make it back in time.

I have my paternal grandma’s expense book from the 1950s. It’s hard to imagine spending $40 a month to rent a whole house, or budgeting over the course of a year for a load of coal. I remember going down to the basement of their house where the coal chute and furnace were located.

We can find all kinds of military and census records through internet search, but we can’t find these little nothings that fill in and make our history something.

I’m not a knick-knack-y kind of collector, but I do save cards and letters . . . those boxes collect dust as much as knick-knacks can.

I know my kids don’t hold the same sentiment for the cards and letters that I do, and I plan to weed through them and pitch . . . eventually. But some of the correspondence holds the personalities of family members they know, and I hope that if they take the time to read them, they’ll hear their voices again, maybe discover something new.

 I still remember the day I received this letter from my dad.

Dad was playing with an old typewriter and all the typos and cross-outs were intentional

I sat in the car by the mailbox and laughed so hard I could hardly read it. Last night I pulled it out of the box and reread it and laughed as hard again. I read another letter to my hubby and we both laughed until the tears ran. I also have the last little calendar my dad used to jot down his daily appointments or when we were coming to visit. This one in particular is one he kept in those last weeks before something happened to make his brain misfire, all the doodles and odd writing he left behind. It’s sad to look at but also tells a story in strong detail. It doesn’t take away from the joy he exuded all his life, it adds to the fullness of our family story.

Of course I keep my journals where so many thoughts are put down and stories are started.

And it’s always about the stories. The stories we tell and the stories extracted from the records we leave behind. My niece has a tattoo of my dad’s signature sign off – Love ya lots – in his handwriting on the inside of her arm. She was able to do that because of a card she kept. Our country’s history is richer because of the letters and diaries that were packed away and found, or passed down through generations for safe keeping so stories wouldn’t be lost.

So do you keep? Do you have love letters from parents or grandparents? Do you have a card or two with the handwriting of a loved one?

Or do you read then pitch?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s