Wrestling with Precious Papers, and Time…

Just shredded all the letters but one from my life’s first great love. They go back all the way to 1971 and stopped sometime in the 80’s. There were some emails in the early 2000s. I last saw him in 2004 at the airport in Atlanta. It was a wonderful meeting wherein we said what we needed to say to each other.

At first I wasn’t sure what to do with this manila envelope filled with airmail letters from Europe, Asia and Africa covering all those years. I found a way to contact him to see if he wanted them, then I thought, “You’re REALLY going to email this guy out of nowhere and ask him if he wants those letters?” I imagined doing that, letting it play out in my mind in all the ways it could and decided, “No. Do both of you a favor. Go shred them.” I saved one he wrote when the Good-X and I were in China. It is a reply to the first letter I sent him from China and it’s wonderful.

I shredded letters from me to my mom and my mom to me when I was at Colorado Woman’s College in 1970, but I saved the note she sent to my high school asking them to let me go early so I could help put my dad in an ambulance to take him to Penrose Hospital for cortisone treatments for his MS. It brought up a vivid, vivid image of coming home that afternoon to find an ambulance in the driveway with the doors open and the light flashing on top. Why? It wasn’t an emergency. I don’t remember how I helped. The paramedics did the work. I think it was moral support. My mom and I rode in the ambulance to the hospital with my dad. The ACTH therapy helped him and when he came home his life was less of a struggle for a little while.

There were a couple of letters from my mission trip in 1968 to Crow Agency where my mom taught in the 1940s. 16 year old girls are pretty silly 😉 I was thinking of that trip the other day as I was scraping flaked paint off my deck. I imagined someone asking, “Where did you learn to do that?”

I’d say, “On a church mission trip to the Baptist Mission at Crow Agency, Montana.”

The trip was absolutely magical BECAUSE of my mom’s connection and because I went there with that connection. I looked for the people she had known and met some of them. Our group got to attend a Crow funeral service (Crow + Catholic) at the St. Xavier Mission at sunset one June evening — and a June sunset after a thunderstorm in south central Montana is incredible, golden and slanty with a rainbow — all beyond words. The service was all in Crow.

My mom spoke Crow adequately, and when I was a kid she used Crow words to (secretly) get my brother and me in line when there were other people around. Two of the first words I learned in any language were “Stop that” and “Come here” in Crow. I learned more words when at Crow on the mission trip, and I haven’t forgotten all of them.

The whole thing was a strange journey for me first, because I’d been at Crow often. My aunt and uncle had run the general store there for many years. And then, we weren’t there to learn about the Crow or “fraternize.” We were there to live our very white segregated lives and paint the church. That made no sense to me.

I got in trouble on that trip because I took off with an Indian kid (really a kid about 10) on horseback. We rode along the Little Bighorn River. When I got back from that ride, I was in terrible trouble. Because of me the planned trip to Yellowstone Park on the way back to Colorado Springs was scrapped. Peculiar thing to punish everyone for the actions of ONE person, but there it was.

We live so many lives in our lifetimes. Anyway, that plastic bin the size of a boot-box was the hardest one to deal with — to my knowledge. There may be other booby traps as I continue this shredding operation, but none like that. As I shredded, it occurred to me that the papers and souvenirs aren’t my life, anyway. They are just a kind of reassurance that all that really happened and that all those beloved people were real. I feel a little melancholy, but I know in a day or two I’ll just feel lighter.

22 thoughts on “Wrestling with Precious Papers, and Time…

  1. Another good one! Peace to you as you shred! Sharing probably helps and so interesting to your readers. Touched me the part of And then, we weren’t there to learn about the Crow. We were there to live our very white segregated lives and paint the church. Isn’t that how it was then — mission trips to make the Natives more white like with freshly painted buildings etc. I am afraid it is still much the same. One of the best mission trip the Wyoming Episcopal Diocese did was to take medical teams to a Central American country rural community and have a cliinc for the people and vaccinations etc. Only trained medical were invited to participate. Guess maybe it is the same bringing vaccinations; bringing paint! But all in all not much time has or is spent on understanding the people. Linda Thursday, Apr

    • Thank you, Linda. I appreciate the gift of peace. Sharing does help, a lot. I’ve always been surprised by the lack of curiosity in situations like that one when I was in high school, even though now I understand that people are generally afraid of what’s different. Your mission trip was actually useful. Painting a church? Just an exercise in teaching kids to do good deeds and showing us how much better off we were than others, I guess. But I’m still hard pressed to understand what’s “better off” than riding a painted horse under the cottonwood trees beside the Little Bighorn River in June. ❤

  2. As much as I believe we need to avoid “living in the past,” it sounds as if your reviewing old letters and other personal papers has been cathartic, and brought you back into the reality of life “in the now!” Unfortunately, my paperwork is more recent and less interesting, and cannot help in that very positive way!

    • I got through a LOT of business paper work first off — I had a Home Affordable (Obama Mortgage from back in the 2009/10 recession) on my house in Descanso that kept it out of foreclosure. There were at least five pounds of paper involved in that as I had to prove every single month that I was doing the best I could, page after page of the kind of numbers you don’t want to put in your recycling bin in the alley. I still have old tax returns to deal with. Not entertaining at all!

      • Old checks, bank statements, investment statements, tax returns forever — mountains of paper!!! I could take it all to Staples, who would put it all in a locked bin until the shredder company comes out once a month to shred what is collected — at $1/pound — or I could go through it all and shred it myself! At least I don’t have the kinds of records you describe above! I expect this project to last at least all summer!

  3. A beautiful story. That shred-or-retain dilemma rears its head every year or two at my place. I’m about to order a small bin this week,again. This morning friends were talking about their old journals and endless digital photos. To select and curate, or write their own memoir and destroy the originals with painful associations was the solution of the day — but we all know this may never happen. These things take time.

    • Once I started, it was pretty easy to get rid of my journals — I had 27! Big ones, sketch books, bound sketch books, filled with stuff even I didn’t want to read. I got it down to two and I like those two very much. And, they won’t embarrass me post mortem (huh?) It was starting in on it that was difficult as if it was somehow intellectually difficult to figure out. I’ve written memoirs — two I’ve published but the others are just for me, though I published them on Amazon, they’re not for sale. They were good writing projects and stories that I’m happy to share with friends even post mortem. 😀

  4. My mother had a ton of old bank statements and canceled checks – to accounts long closed in IN that she carted to PA when she moved in with my sister. They had to haul a whole car load of stuff to the big shredder event this last month!

    • Yikes. It’s hard to know what to let go of and it’s the kind of job no one wants to do. I just don’t know who’s going to clean out my house when I’m dead which, hopefully, isn’t any time soon. I don’t want things that are no one’s business left here when that time comes. It just seems wrong so…

  5. I love that you reread them, reflected, saved a tiny piece of some, and moved on, shredding the past, except for what you hold in your memory

  6. I feel your melancholy reading this. I do like that you are being selective in what you save. You are right they aren’t your life. I know my worry in clearing those things out is that my descendants will not have any real idea of what life was like for me. I know that is a regret I have in not having the stories of my ancestors. Perhaps I am projecting my sentiment onto those in the future. At some point I will need to deal with all the paper. Much easier to shred the business end of things.

    • I might look at things differently if I had descendants. There’s a correlation between what I’m contending with and the absence of descendants. Chances are very good that complete strangers will clear out my house when the time comes. 😀 I wrote a lot of my stories into small books which I have. My concern is the words of other people who, I think, deserve my respect which means not putting them in front of strangers. But some of the family stuff — like the note my mom wrote to the school — I’ll hold onto that for a while, but really for no good reason.

      • I have a friend who was recently going through her papers and she sent my letters from long ago, to her, back to me. It was fun to read them and remember that time in my life. So far, I’ve hung onto them. I think if there is too much when my time comes, my son will be more likely to just get rid of it without really looking at it. I wouldn’t blame him shutting up shop on someone’s life can be overwhelming. I think being selective in what I keep is important and more likely to be meaningful.

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