Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Whatever Wednesday: 5 October 2011

Strolling down memory lane can be a risky undertaking. Of course, I did not know that I would be taking that stroll when I decided last weekend that it was finally time to quit procrastinating and tackle the attic. It was one of the biggest and most dreaded chapters in the Great Cleaning Frenzy book.

Going through my daughters’ baby clothes and old books was not too traumatic. I found a couple of dresses that I realized were not central to my memories of their childhood, and they went into the Good Will pile. I did not have to endure the agony of sorting out the schoolwork and artwork of their early years; that had already been taken care of in the Great Cleaning Frenzy of 1999, and every year thereafter we would sift out “the best of the best” at the end of the school year and haul it up into the attic for storage.

As a matter of fact, when I first went up into the attic, I was surprised at how neat and organized all the boxes looked. Sure, everything was pretty dusty, but all I had to do was open each box or bin, figure out whether the contents included anything that was no longer of practical use or a vessel of cherished memories, and sort out items to be given away or thrown out. Even old children’s books were an easy job, as I had resolved beforehand to use a light hand, only culling out books that stirred no smiles or memories.

By the time I had finished with the last box, there were sizable piles of trash and giveaways.

Only the little closet next to the chimney stack wall remained. There wasn’t much in it; other than half of a Nativity set and a barbed wire Christmas wreath (it’s a Texas thing), just some old mementos from some of our vacations and old Christmas cards, all dating to the last century.

I pulled out several bags, and found a bit of chewing damage from squirrels, who periodically invade our attic, get evicted by the exterminator, and several months or years later find a way to sneak back in. Only a couple of papers got chewed. Good. I started to sort through the ragged and dusty bags full of cards, brochures, maps, and schedules. Our honeymoon and major vacations each got separate piles, Christmas cards seemed to have been divided roughly by year, and miscellaneous small trips formed a final pile. Out of that pile I picked up a folded brochure for New York City:

“No matter who you are, you can be on top of the world at the World Trade Center.”

It must have been around 1991, when my husband and I took Daughter #1, then about 18 months old, into Manhattan to visit FAO Schwartz. On the way back we decided on the spur of the moment to go to the top of one of the WTC towers. We had forgotten our camera, so we picked up the brochure, which featured a classic New York skyline picture centered on the Twin Towers. Ten years later, the towers were gone. And ten years after that, I unexpectedly came across this painful reminder.

Another pile of mementos yielded a letter from a friend who has since left us, thanking us for providing moral support during a difficult time. Another bittersweet memory.

And more: Christmas cards from a beloved babysitter, a neighbor my husband grew up calling “Aunt Sarah,” dear aunts and uncles who supported me with love and faith - all gone now.

So much loss brought back so suddenly, jarringly, in just one short trip to the attic.

I placed each pile in a separate envelope and put the envelopes in a covered bin, passed down the bag of trash, climbed down the ladder from the attic, and took a shower to wash the dust off.

I am getting close to winding up the Great Cleaning Frenzy. Daughter #2 comes home tomorrow for a few days; there are some sorting chores for which I need her judgment and input. Soon after that, I hope, I will be back to research and (regular) blogging.

Other bits

Monday, while I was watching Part One of Ken Burns’ series Prohibition, I recognized some clips taken from the 1906 SF film “A Trip Down Market Street” that FootnoteMaven featured on Shades of the Departed.

One of my favorite recent blog posts: “Mistakes Are Made (but Using the Passive Isn’t One of them)” by Geoffrey Pullam on the blog Lingua Franca on The Chronicle of Higher Education website. There is a link within the post to his original article on the subject, “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.” I still have copies of that article at work and at home.


  1. Good post, Greta. Nicely written! And sometimes us family historians take trips down lanes that aren't even our memories...

  2. Oh no! Not the attic! If I go up there, I won't be coming down for a year.

    Seriously, excellent article. Most of us can relate to running across those old cards and letters that bring back bittersweet memories.

  3. I can remember a time when I just couldn't dream I would speak of memories in the way you have.

    Your post reminds me that a well-lived life has opportunities for memories around a lot of corners.

  4. Dawn - Absolutely! I've gotten really hooked by some of the stories and pictures on other people's blogs - doesn't matter that the families aren't mine, I want to know about them!

    Michelle - I was really intimidated by that attic, and that's why I left it until almost last.

    dee - Thank you for understanding so well - I certainly realized that I hadn't really confronted these memories adequately before.

  5. I have some major cleaning out to do of the house we've lived in for 15 years, and I'm not looking forward to it! Thanks for giving me inspiration to tackle the job.

    Also enjoyed the posts on Strunk & White (aka the gospel, according to my English professors).

  6. I loved reading this, because I recently tackled cleaning out the basement. Then I asked my daughter to bring her boyfriend around because he had a pick up truck to take it all to the Lion's Club Yard Sale. Well, it was fun to see the two of them pawing through the boxes before taking it all to be donated. He chose my grand-dad's old ashtray for his desk, and she chose some old cow bells we used to ring at crew races on the Charles River. The rest of the truck load went away, but two very nice memories were passed on to another generation.