When my sister Joan recently asked if I had the computer disc my mother had saved a manuscript on, I begged her not to make me visit the trunk of sadness. The trunk of sadness. The chest of doom. Whatever I call it, I don’t think I’ve gotten to the bottom since I inherited it from my mother in 2010 and filled it full of memorabilia. It’s a lovely quality chest, really, but packed to the brim with memories.
Memories like the postcards and valentine from my grandson Jacob, who passed away in 2013, the piece of paper my sisters wrote their phone numbers on so that I could call them at any time of day after my husband David died in 2012, a postcard I’d once sent to him, a birthday card from my penfriend Pam Pierre for my 52nd birthday. She knew it would be a difficult day as it was also the first anniversary of my mother’s death. Pam herself died a short time later.
In working on Mary & Me, I’d already dived into several boxes and totes as a way to jumpstart memories regarding the topics we were covering. When writing about my years raising young children, I unearthed the daybooks I’d kept during the bulk of that time. Writing on the topic of mothers, I read my Mom’s Memory Book and studied her old address book, searching for a mention of friends.
But I had somehow managed to avoid the trunk, knowing it inevitably made me cry to go through it. In recent weeks however, I’ve been diligently working on a power point for our first “Letter-Writing 101” workshop. One important point we make in the presentation is that letters and cards can be treasures. I know I treasure my mother’s old letters to her mother, letters she’d written as a young mother of ten children.I also saved all the letters my mother wrote me.
I certainly cherish those rare notes or letters from my father. It was one of those notes I was searching for to include in the power point, which was why I spent a few hours this week looking in the chest.
I did find a letter he’d written right after I left home for college, but not the note I was searching for; one he’d left on the table while I was in high-school, instructing me to put on the potatoes to boil and my brother John to feed and water the ducks. I’d wanted an example of how precious one short note like that can be.
Instead of crying, I found myself smiling as I unearthed memory after memory. A letter from a high-school teacher, Mr. A, admonishing me to thank my parents, do my best at whatever I do, follow my dreams, and always remember that I am special.
The tote full of sympathy cards and letters that I received after David’s death. I smiled as I noted how many return addresses were from recently acquired friends, when there was a distinct lack of friends in my life just five years ago, another topic we broach in our book.
David’s cards and letters he’d kept during his cancer treatment. If you don’t think a card or letter sent to someone going through cancer treatment can really make a difference in their life, consider that my husband asked to look through this box of cards five years after his cancer. He sat on the bed and pored through each and every message he’d received, and then he read the journal I’d kept during the period of caregiving. A card can make or break a day when we face tough times.
I unearthed more jewels in the chest. I was delighted to discover an old “Women’s Household” magazine at the bottom of it (yes, I got to the bottom). Inside, page after page of penpal ads, something we don’t see in our news stand magazines anymore.
My digging revealed some real treasures in the form of old cards, random notes and movie stubs.
Despite what it looks like, I don’t keep everything. Years ago Mary and I agreed to get rid of each others’ letters, a decision I sometimes regret, but considering we’d each have over 4500 letters to store, we’d definitely need another trunk.
Since there was more laughter and smiles than tears this time around, I think I can safely change the label of my storage space from “trunk of sadness” to that of “trunk of treasure.”
And yes, Joan, I found the computer disc.