We’re often accused of being a wasteful throwaway society, continually disposing ever increasing amounts of stuff.  That, of course, is true, but not so when it comes to personal belongings and memorabilia (note the extraordinary growth of storage facilities).  In part that’s because almost 70% of us live in houses where basements, attics, garages serve as convenient resting spaces for collections of cartons and assorted boxes which, for years, can remain undisturbed and largely forgotten.

But there comes a time when we finally decide to address the matter, sort through it all, a job, if you’ve already attempted it, you know to be both challenging, emotionally intense, one filled with surprises, but also on occasion with sadness.  There is an uneasy finality to this process.  It may come as part of an overall cleanup and decluttering, or a pending sale of your home.  It may result from the need for additional room, or occur in our later years when thoughts turn to a consideration of the broader contours of our lives.  Wading through personal belongings and papers will likely be a melancholy journey triggering memories of times gone by and provide numerous entry points into  our past.

What is worth passing on to the next generation and what is not?  What would they likely retain?  What is it that you wish the children and grandchildren to know and remember about you?  Your legacy is here in your hands to shape as you see fit.  If left to them you worry that much may simply be discarded, that a wholesale purge of your past may occur.

So after many excuses and endless delays the time finally arrives:  you decide to take the plunge, to turn back the hands of time and recover those items that define the paths you’ve taken over the years.  Digging in I discover my hospital birth registration, schedule of vaccinations and monthly weights, along with some primitive artwork.  Also, an essay or two written in elementary school, my report cards, graduation diploma (from the sixth grade) and memory book (signed by fellow students long past recall).  I see I didn’t always get the highest grades, nor was my deportment consistently acceptable.  Here is a class picture.  (I should have written down all the names on the back.)  There are some birthday cards (kept by my mother I imagine).  Sheet music when I played the piano and assorted commendations, together with projects completed in school (viz, a candle, and a tie rack).  In high school I was a “big man,” captain of the tennis team.  Clippings from the school newspaper recorded our triumphs and included pictures of me on the court.  There is the “letter” I received for playing, along with my varsity sweater (which I wore ever so proudly).

Then there are the picture albums (the yellowing pages betraying their age).  My father took these very seriously, filling one after another with family photos, carefully and completely captioning each picture (otherwise I’d have little idea as to the identity of many of those posing with me).  What to do with all these weighty albums?  People today don’t compile such things any more, store most of their pictures on the computer or smart phone.  But they just can’t be tossed aside.  If I did it would be tantamount to erasing much of my childhood.  Very few people, after all, remain who can speak to those times.

My college years are also represented, and includes the freshman cap I was obliged to wear, grade transcripts, one or two term papers (not nearly as embarrassing as I imagined they’d be), ticket stubs to football games, and my first year college bill (about $2000 if you can imagine that).  Also, my varsity “letter” sweater (squash) and quite a few letters I wrote home from school, which my father saved (“Everybody was fine,” “Courses going well,” along with weather reports!).  My laminated diploma lay in the box along with the graduation day program.

That was just one carton!  There were others but there’s no point in continuing to catalog their contents.  Suffice it to say, a superficial survey revealed that they contained the predictable, tokens of an active life, and yes many photo albums devoted mostly to pictures taken on our various vacation trips.

Remember, just as I was rummaging through my extensive “holdings” my wife was similarly engaged, plunging into her own abundant collections.

So, to date, what has been accomplished?  An inescapable task, long delayed,  had at last gotten underway.  Years traversed; memories rekindled.  Life has left a well-marked trail for us to review and consider.  But this critical undertaking is far from completed.  Duplicates have been discarded, minor stuff tossed aside, especially that which has degraded, is no longer salvageable.  But many of the hard decisions, having been deferred, still lie ahead.  What, after all is “worth” retaining?  What do you wish others to see and value?  Snap judgments are not in order here.  It will require further examination, careful evaluation.  I’ve not, however, scheduled Round Two.

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