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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Originally published June 13, 2008

Reprinted with permission from Bay Area News Group – East Bay.

I’ve never been good at saving mementos from the past. It probably has to do with my aversion to clutter and not ever knowing where to put the remnants of life such as graduation caps and corsages.

As with most things, however, my mother knows because she recently sent me a box of remnants from the first 25 years of my life. Everything fit neatly in a small packing box, attesting to the fact, that compared to me, my mother has only slightly less aversion to clutter– she saved sparingly.

Along with disliking clutter, I’ve also never attached much sentimentality to objects. Looking through the box, it was difficult to feel anything for the yellowed pieces of paper with grade school poems and drawings or the scratched plaques awarded for spelling and essay contests. The same was true for the high school and college mementos like the fuzzy prom photos and wrinkled graduation programs.

It seemed to me the contents of the box could have belonged to almost anyone. They were typical things people save, so typical they might be used as props to convey a background or set a scene in a movie. Considering my lack of emotional response, it wasn’t hard to imagine them as props — more fake than real.

Some old cards and letters at the bottom of the box, however, had a different effect. In the same way an actor’s performance can make a scene seem real, the sender’s written words made the cards and letters come alive.

I found a “going away” card that I received from a friend when I was eleven, before my family’s move to another town. My friend recounted some of our experiences together: hopscotch games, roller skating down the steep streets of town, and lemonade picnics. She concluded, “I’ll remember your smile with braces the best.” Her words helped me remember her wide smile, along with her red hair.

Old letters from my grandmother also created a vivid picture of her. In her letters, she regularly wrote about her small town life with characteristic humor. In one of them, she described a heavy snowstorm that cut-off power to her house, and how she made her way to a friend’s with the help of the town firemen, who took her in their fire truck with lights flashing. “I should have been embarrassed, but I was not,” she wrote.

My grandmother never missed an opportunity to express her affection with words and, as I recalled, money tucked into the envelope. “I hope you can find something for this little bit of money,” she wrote. “I wish it was a million.”

A college graduation card from my father made him appear in sharper focus than any memory I have of him. As a person who rarely expressed affection, he had written, “My thoughts and love will accompany you as you take the diploma.” Reading his loving words, my father seemed more real to me at that moment, than at other times I could recall.

As I packed everything back in the box, I placed the cards and letters on top with care. It seems some things are worth saving.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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