Delving into the Old Trunk

Yesterday I went through the treasures/mementos in the nearly 200 year old trunk which fills a corner of my room. It is a wooden trunk, allegedly from the “old country” (I don’t know which one). It was once covered with pretty paper. It has a cool engraving inside the lid and some of the original paper, too. I reinforced the bottom with cedar paneling at some point (it needed it). It holds a lot family relics as well as stories of its own some of which I know and some I never will. It has a mythology that I’ve since dispelled (but who cares?). Anyway, I went at it yesterday, mustered my courage and prepared to face the ghosts.

There were several ghosts in there. I looked through my dad’s old, leather-covered, 1950s, University of Denver notebook filled with 8 x 10 photos of his experiments with sending radios up into the sky hanging from balloons shot up by TNT. Pretty cool photos. Some papers from his presentations on the idea (1958) of installing computers in universities to facilitate research and learning. More ghosts… Letters from my grandmother to my parents that I found I wasn’t ready to toss. I will at some point so they’re now all in one box and when the moment comes I’ll just toss the box without looking inside. The photos of my family my Aunt Martha kept on her dresser. This kind of thing. Most absurd, framed photographs. Just taking them out of frames and putting them in folders lightened the burden a LOT.

A couple of the burdens are a problem for me, most of all the very very very heavy draft (printed on paper from a dot matrix printer) of my book about Pearl Buck as a writer in the Chinese tradition. It’s in a big blue notebook and there are two drafts in there. I want to toss it, but I don’t have the heart right now, so back it went. I dunno. I did pull out a folder of stuff I’d written. I used to write when I had nothing to write about (this blog? 😉 ) and there’s a LOT of that in there but there was something wonderful.

At some point in the late 80s, when I had my first 3 dogs, I wrote about going to Mission Trails. I was enchanted today as I read it. It read just like the moments themselves. There are neighborhood kids I took up there. There are a LOT of rattlesnakes. There’s a young cowboy I met who tried to impress me by telling me he was from Greybull, WY. When I met him the second time, he said that wasn’t true. He was really just from El Cajon (now a suburb of San Diego). I wrote that I told him that guys in Greybull probably wish they were from San Diego. But the best part — for me — is that I talked to my dogs in these pages. It brought them to life in a not-sad, not sinister, not-ghostlike way. I felt all the joy we had shared together discovering that beautiful chaparral park in San Diego.

It made me think about why I feel moved to do this now. Well, one reason is it’s still really hot and with the sun now further south, it’s like being under a broiler in the afternoon. Another? The morbid one. I will die and someone’s going to have to contend with this stuff. I don’t have family to whom it will mean anything and if it meant a LOT to me it wouldn’t sit in a trunk year after year.

What has come with me into THIS moment, this reality? Dogs and trails. That was a huge discovery. It doesn’t seem to me that dogs leave ghosts behind. I’ve loved all my dogs and went through the last moments with most of them. I miss them, some more than others, to be honest, but I remember them all as unique beings who brought something to the trail no other dog did, could or would. So what’s different?

Nature — I get that. It’s been my ally since I was a girl. It is what it is ALL THE TIME. But dogs? It hit me. You go into the natural world with dogs (for hours at a time as I have done much of my adult life) and you are released from the ego-striving of humanity. Family fights fade into the background. Unhappy students are forgotten. Inscrutable and unfair demands of administration or bosses are left at the trailhead. There isn’t even any “language” in the so-called normal sense. It was — has been — is — pure, unalloyed joy and freedom with no negotiation. I never wrote anything like that about any of the people in my life. There’s some self-indulgent writing in there, too, that embarrasses me and will probably be tossed. It’s about how cool I was buying climbing boots at REI.

Or is it that relationships with humans are almost always complex and equivocal, the loss we feel when someone we love dies is never as clear as our loss of a dog? Or the loss of a moment in time? Or things we wish we could say to or hear from the humans we’ve lost? Or the yearning for just one more time doing this or that? Or, as with my grandmother’s letters, the wish I could know her NOW and tell her how beautiful they are?

I have regrets only about one of my dogs — my dog Molly, my twin-soul, who broke her neck trying to escape the yard of a friend with whom I’d left her before I headed to Colorado for a week. I thought — because she was nearly 16 — she would be happier with my friend than on a long road trip. I was wrong. The next morning, as I was about to leave, I got a call from the friend telling me the horrible news. Only with Molly do I wish I had the chance to make a different choice. But of our life together? We are running over the hills. Molly is chasing rabbits, and all is well.

But most of all I saw yesterday in my personal archeology that where there is history, I’m going to try to find the place/people/organization that will treasure the history. Maybe the Denver Research Institute — of which my dad was one of the first scientists — might like these artifacts from the early days of its existence. I will try. The rest? There just has to be less of it. I saw that I want to take into the canvas of my own future the treasures of my own life and history. More of these old things will find their place, and I will enjoy as much time with my dogs in nature as I can.

In oven news, I’ve ordered the most recommended (here and on my Facebook page) oven, the Breville Smart Oven Pro Countertop Convection Oven. I appreciate the recommendations.

41 thoughts on “Delving into the Old Trunk

  1. I agree, dogs don’t leave ghosts. I think about “all dogs go to Heaven,” but I worry about the dog fight as I have had a lot of Heeler and heeler mixes. Thanks for reminding me to write more for myself about my current pup.

    • My Akbash dog, Bear, has an issue with heelers since one ran at us one day on a walk. Bear’s a livestock guardian dog, BIG, and she just sauntered over to him, put her paw on his neck, laid him on the ground and put her mouth over his head for a few second saying, “I could devour you.” She didn’t hurt him at all, but he got a “talking to.” I think in dog Heaven dogs don’t have issues like that.

  2. Such a beautiful post, Martha. As normal, I’m behind on reading. But despite any order, what you write always resonates at the exact moment it should. Your family, undoubtedly, has fascinating history (computers in the late 50’s and your grandmother) And dogs. They’ve been a huge part of my life and forever love. I don’t forget your Molly. And now Teddy and Bear are like extended family to me, just as you. I had a grandgirl born last Sunday. Mom had her in two hours. Older brother loves her and I’ll leave for Alaska to see them on the 8th. Meanwhile, I’m “birthing” a kid’s book. And the formatting and every detail has been maddening at times. I met with my illustrator, Gage, yesterday. We are switching gears a bit to write Ozark Folklore. I’ve become fascinated by a lady named Fannabelle Francis Ford. This female broke barriers in the Ozark’s during her day. She died in 1974 at the age of 70. I love this research and am exited about a different type of project. I’ve missed writing the last 10 days. Actually I write an 20 line poem of all song titles I put together as my therapy to control my Martha withdrawals and disconnect I feel from my friend, WordPress, in the last 10 days. I know sing titles aren’t copyrighted, but I don’t want to cross any blurred lines so I just enjoy my writing in my journal. Hopefully I’ll get to back a few posts and catch up to your “present”. You always write things that make meaning for me. It’s good to see you! I love old trunks and history and know that letting go is a strange feeling. And is freedom in other ways. I will always have your stories. 💛❤️💚

    • I’m very happy to learn your grand girl has arrived. You’re going to love seeing her!!! (And Alaska…) Your project sounds fascinating. My “present” is just hanging with the dogs, being grateful my shoulder is healing on its own, and seeing friends. For some reason, August has been very very intense, but it’s likely I’ll get some lesson from it and it will make sense someday. ❤ ❤ for you and Finn

  3. Love this post, Martha. So vulnerable and raw.

    I have many, similar struggles with figuring how much of the past to lug into my future, as well as that sense that, ultimately, my best moments were those I spent with my dogs in nature. I’m determined to create more of those moments for as long as I can.

  4. What a trunk of treasures (or as Captain Kangaroo used to call it…a Treasure Chest…not sure why THAT popped into my mind…). I love your plan to donate some of it for history’s sake. Your dad’s things are a piece of history! I know how tough it is to do what you are doing. Old letters…sigh…so hard to part with. I keep putting off doing another layer of doing what you just did, but perhaps I’m not ready. Yesterday I did come upon a folder of stuff I wrote in high school – themes for English class defending strong opinions on women’s rights and such. I can see why I kept them for half a century, but here we are and some things haven’t changed. I kept the folder. I enjoyed this post – thanks for sharing.

    • You’re welcome! In the garage I have a folder with some old papers — probably the oldest treasure of that nature is the project I did for a science fair in 8th grade that won a prize from the National Petroleum Society of America. So weird. It was a clay map showing the various strata of the Tetons. Anyway, I might tackle that stuff later today. Working in the garage is a little less emotionally fraught than some of the stuff I brought into the house. 🙂 And yeah, last year during the BLM riots I kept thinking, “My god, how long do we have to fight THIS fight?” The saddest thing to me is that it’s still necessary. And women’s rights? I dunno… When I see some of the benighted females who now hold “power” in this country I wonder if that was EVER a good idea. 😉

      • Wow! 8th grade…I only have a diary from that period. Kind of boring. You have some more real treasures there in the garage. With equal rights, we (would) get equal access to all sides of human nature. Evens things up more fairly if nothing else. 🙂

        • I guess I had hoped that women such as Lauren effing Boebert would have understood where they stand in the continuum of female liberty and been more responsible, but no. I look at Sydney Powell and various others of that ilk and I wonder “What was the point?” I know I’m naive and idealistic. At this point I think the most important thing is that women are paid the same wages for doing the same job as a man. That is concrete, possible, provable and just. The rest? Exactly as you say; human nature. I think I read way too much Victorian fiction.

          • Well…there’s always the future generations of women who may take the reigns and make us proud(er). I know they are out there. Perhaps it’s just as well I have read very little Victorian fiction. Pay equity – absolutely. But there’s so much more…. I am also idealistic to an extent – as that’s how I’m able to keep a shred of hope alive.

            • ❤ Victorian lit talked a lot about the "women's sphere" and how it was women's calling, duty and ability to make the world a better place. I bought into that more than I knew. Lot of great women leaders in the world — I feel the US is behind…

  5. I once had a roommate leave a trunk with me. The only cool thing about the trunk was that it was stenciled “US House of Representatives”, as my roommate’s dad was in Congress. I moved that trunk with me several times, never hearing from him. One day I finally popped it open to find it contained mostly school notebooks. (He had dropped out of college.) I think I threw out/recycled most of the contents. That trunk is still in my basement and I THINK I know what is in it, but I may now have to uncover it and look inside. Charlie, if you’r reading this, I still have your trunk after 50 years. Do you want it back?

  6. Congrats on the oven. And I know just what you mean about the stuff in the trunk. I am going through Dan’s many manila folders of keepsakes. I’m going to write about that myself one of these days.

    • It’s a very strange experience. Now I’m just working on my own random junk which is just labor and not emotionally challenging. I figure once a week I’ll dive into it until it all goes in one bin in the garage — or less. I love the people represented by the things, but every time I go through these things, I realize on an ever deeper level that the people I loved and who loved me exist in their most vivid, living form in my heart and in my memories. I’ve accepted that it’s some kind of process of self-discovery, maybe based on loss… 😦

      • Yes. I think I could write a whole book about this process of going through Dan’s things. It’s like getting to know someone who I didn’t know in a way … because of course much of the stuff predated our life together. There is nothing scandalous, just a curation of what he though about and what he did and who he was with at points in his life that he and I didn’t necessarily talk about. And of course… I am the survivor who needs to say… what should I do with this? So very odd.

        • It is very odd. I found a photo of my mom that she’d saved in a music box. It was from the time she was teaching in Montana, before my dad. She was cozied up to some cowboy who stood behind her. They were obviously in love and/or lust. She’d cut it into a little oval which suggested she’d worn it in a locket. I’d heard indirectly once that there had been a man in my mom’s life long before my dad, a man who’d been killed in WW II but no one ever really told me. I will never know if that man was him.

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