Monday, August 6, 2018

Discard Remorse

Yes, my de-cluttering went too far. I went back into the recycling bin and pulled stuff out.

It was the letters. No, not just the letters – it was the memories reflected in the letters.

I’ve talked about the easy stages of de-cluttering: the broken, the junk, the never-used.  When I first started this blog, I was big into tossing. I was just off clearing out my mother’s house and fifty years of accumulation. Dealing with too much stuff has led to more tossing.

But in this latest binge, I uncovered two shoeboxes of letters from 1985 (when I moved to Alaska) till 1993 or so. (I think that’s when email took over and letter exchange diminished drastically.) I spent hours going through those letters, loving every minute of my trip down memory lane. And then I put them in the recycling bin.
I thought, “If I haven’t looked at them in 25+ years, by the next time I look at them, I’ll have dementia and won’t know who any of these people are.” I was thinking of my mother. When she was 84, she took great pleasure in letters from her cousin written when he was overseas during World War II. But by the time she was 91, things like that were distressing because she didn’t remember a lot of it.

But that night, I emailed my friend Janet and quoted a bit from a letter she’d written me. It brought back a flood of memories, and Janet replied right away to my email, saying that she’d loved it, too. We both sat, a thousand miles away, grateful for our history together. How could that happen if I’d thrown them all away?

When I was eight years old, we moved from New Jersey to Long Island. My friend Karen and I were devoted pen pals, as she moved on to Illinois. We met up again once in Colorado when we were in our 20s. I’ve tried finding her since then without luck. But spurred on by these letters, I tried again that night and found her online! We’re emailing again!

My friend Rodney died in 2008, and I loved reading every letter he’d written. But this time, I saw that I’d always appeared in his holiday letters:
“As I have for all Thanksgivings since my friend Barbara moved to Alaska (she always invited a bunch of friends over to eat and I got to make and take sweet potato pie), I went to Lake Tahoe.”
I thought of Rodney and his sweet potato pie, and I missed him. I hadn’t realized he didn’t have Thanksgiving dinners any more. I wished I could spend one more Thanksgiving with him.

I didn’t realize my friend Sharon – who I’ll see in a couple weeks – was by far my most prolific correspondent, and we shared a lot. But then I read of a disagreement we’d had, how she was upset with me, how we processed that out. I don’t even remember it, but I see how we worked it out, how our friendship continued, how it survived and thrived.

And then there are the letters from my mother. Most of my mother’s correspondence were notes, quick typing while she was at work, sending on some package or information and adding in a note. But then there was this:
“I’m reading Marilyn French’s “Her Mother’s Daughter.” If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a “must”! Explains – no, doesn’t explain, just makes me aware of all my frustrations over the years, yours, too – and how we see things so-o-o-o differently – and then just getting older makes certain realizations clearer – She’s not ‘easy’ reading – but she’s certainly thought provoking – READ IT! Particularly pg. 290-295. Interesting.”

I’m sure when I received that in 1988, I read it and put it aside while I was busy with work and life. But not in 2018. In 2018, I was blown away at this window into my mother. I immediately put the book on hold at the library and am working my way to page 290. When I get there, I’ll wish I could talk with my mother about it.
The greeting cards are still in recycling, as are the letters from acquaintances I already can’t remember. But the letters from friends, from family, they’re back in a special box.

There’s such a thing as premature de-cluttering. I’d written before that “while you’re still remembering and laughing, this is not the time to toss,” and Betsey commented “I think I’d keep it forever.” Forever it is.

1 comment:

  1. When I went through old letters from my parents, I tossed a lot of them out. Most were quite mundane, but I saved some that showed how horrible my mother was. In case I forget. I want to remember how she was so I don't start acting like her. I want to remember how she was so I don't drown myself in guilt for not being a better daughter.

    My brother recently asked for copies of the letters. He also wants the proof of how she was. Most days I am not in the mood to get those letters out and re-read them so I can pick the ones to send to my brother. Maybe soon.

    There are many reasons for saving old letters.


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