3 November 2003
I woke up sore this morning. Sore from hauling so much stuff yesterday. Sore everywhere, but mostly in my %$#@! shoulder, which is still not back to normal. A young man I talked with at the wedding (the age of my children) told me he'd dislocated his shoulder some time ago and that I should resign myself to it hurting "forever." Sigh.
Most of the time I just try to ignore it, but sometimes it just makes me damn mad and sometimes I give in and take some ibuprofen. It's so much better than it was in June that I really have no cause for complaint.
But with so much "big stuff" done yesterday, and feeling the results of the physical activity, I spent today doing "organizing." The little stuff. Going through the envelopes and file folders I'd saved to "go through later."
I've reconnected with some old friends throughout the day.
I've been the kind of person who, thoughout my life, has held on to cards, letters, photographs, and everything else that came from special people in my life. As I look back over my life and look at what I've saved, I ask myself what I intended to do with it all. There is nobody to whom most of this stuff will mean a thing and so in my new ruthless mode, I'm tossing a lot of it.
But I haven't tossed things without stopping to read them first.
I thought that in a big self-preservation mood I'd thrown away all of my father's letters years ago, but a couple of them surfaced in the envelopes I sorted through today. It's interesting reading through them now that I no longer fear them, as I did for several years after his death. His letters affected me so powerfully that when they arrived, I would read them holding them at arm's length and glancing at them quickly and then glancing away, as if the very words could leap off the page and injure me. Interesting reaction, since my father was not a physically abusive person.
I can read his writing a bit more dispassionately now, and understand why it affected me the way it did at the time (he was not much older than I am now when he wrote the ones I found today). All of his messages seem to follow the same formula: "I'm in terrible health, but don't worry about me; you have your own life to lead" (Catholic guilt is just as effective as Jewish guilt!) and "I love you but there is this terrible thing you do that really upsets me and I'm only telling you how awful you are because I love you." Funny how I can (almost) read those messages now without the same churning of the stomach that I always had when I read them at the time.
The other ghosts I exhumed today were not quite as emotional. I found a letter from my aunt Betsy, who died of lung cancer several years ago. I don't remember her ever writing to me, but apparently I made a birthday cake for a surprise party for her (I don't remember doing it) and she was writing to thank me. My first inclination was to keep the letter, but ultimately I (lovingly) discarded it.
I always said that I was the wrong Scott woman's child. I really was supposed to be Betsy's child. She was a free spirit, an artist, not at all tidy. Instead I was born to my mother, a Virgo with that clean gene I never inherited. I wasn't really close to Betsy, but I always suspected that she was supposed to be my mother.
Also in the stack was a letter from my aunt Marge, who died of lung cancer before Betsy did. Again, it was full of no great content. I had kept it because I never heard from her either. I was closer to Marge than any of my other aunts, since her daughter Peach and I were such good friends (still are).
In the stack of papers I found a copy of the comments my Uncle Jim (who died of emphysema) made at Marge's funeral, where he says, "It's been said, if at the time of our death, we can count one real friend, we're richer than a millionaire. If this be true, then surely with all of the many dear friends she had, Marge left this world a very wealthy woman."
And indeed he was right. I loved that lady. So did most people who met her.
There was also a letter from my aunt Barb (the one with Alzheimers). Barb was the writer in the family and wrote wonderful funny tomes which were collected into a book which was distributed to the family. It is so sad, when I read back through those witty pieces, to realize that she has lost so much. She retains the spark (on good days), but will never again write one of these delicious pieces.
One of my favorite memories of my young adulthood was an afternoon spent with Marge, Betsy, Barb and my mother, all of them reminiscing about growing up and getting very risque--something about vibrating dryers and electric toothbrushes.... I taped that conversation and it is one of my great sadnesses that the tape has disappeared.
Also gone into the discard pile (I can't say "trash") are letters from my typing teacher, Sister Anne, with whom I remained friends until her death shortly before Ned and Marta's wedding. I cherish the friendship and gave Jeri the middle name of Anne because of her. The last time I saw her was when I was an adult and visited the Motherhouse in Indiana, where Sister Anne gave me a tour of the brewery where she made the convent beer. Now that was a part of convent life I hadn't known of when I was in high school!
I also tossed letters from my very first boss, again a friendship I have hung on to since the 1960s (I won't use his name, since he is still alive). He escaped Austria in the early days of WW II, as Hitler was coming to power and has suffered from depression for as long as I've known him. I'm pleased that our friendship has survived, but it makes me feel helpless to hear from him, especially as the years have rolled on and his depression has deepened. He's in his 70s now, in poor health, and more depressed then I've ever known him.
I tossed a huge collection of letters from my friend Ann, a prolific letter writer at one time. We have grown apart over the years and her letters were thick with dust.
Gone are postcards from my one-time best friend Phil Dethlefsen, who died several years ago after a period of estrangement. He and I didn't have a falling out, but there was a misunderstanding with his partner, who forbade Phil from ever speaking to me again. Phil, the wimp, complied. I didn't realize I'd saved his postcards. But they are gone now.
Gone, too, are letters from his friend, who tried to be a go-between when our unpleasantness erupted. The disagreement pretty much ended our friendship too, though she did come to Paul's memorial. From time to time our paths cross, mostly when I run into her children. She always suggests that we "do lunch sometime." We never do. Time to put that chapter behind me too.
Letters written to me by the family when I was on my first six week sabbatical (visiting a friend in Maryland, and working her job for six weeks while she was on maternity leave) prompted an e-mail to her. It has been a very long time since I've heard from her (since well before my accident in June) and I wonder how things are going in her life now. She lives a tumultuous life and there is always a crisis. But I do miss hearing from her.
I couldn't quite bring myself to throw away messages from the kids. Yet. If I keep up this ruthless clean-up, that may be coming eventually, but for now, I'm still being a clingy Mom.
This trip down memory lane was an interesting one, with each new find sparking another memory, some pleasant, some less than pleasant. Much progress was made today, though not as visible to the casual observer as yesterday's massive clean out was. I'm in this for the long haul and expect that this zeal will continue until I make the place, if not exactly "neat," at least more livable than it has been for years.