I traveled back in time today for about an hour. I was sitting in my daughter’s bedroom as she played and I was completely in another place in time. I spent most of my time traveling through 2003-2006, depending on the piece of paper I was holding.
I quickly skimmed each piece of paper to assess its importance. Itineraries from business trips: shred pile. Cards from friends and families: trash, but shred the envelope if there is an address on it. Name tags from conferences: keep. Papers with his handwriting: trash if it’s not important, keep if it has inspiring words on it, shred if it seems to pertain to anything personal but not worth keeping. Medical bills: shred. Images from his endoscopies: shred shred shred. The planbook from his final year of life with a picture of him and my sister taped to the inside flap: keep of course.
Eventually my daughter joined me and began to treat this exercise like a game. She was in charge of the trash pile and she took great pleasure in throwing the papers all over her room. I didn’t care because I was too busy traveling through time.
My family recently helped my mom go through her storage unit that she had been paying for for 8 years. When she initially asked for help she claimed that it was just full of my dad’s old papers, most of which she would be throwing away. She needed to get out of the storage unit quickly because she could no longer afford to pay for it.
I was suspicious of her request for help from the beginning. I knew that it was highly likely that there was way more than my dad’s papers in there and I was not comfortable with the idea of just throwing all of his stuff away without even looking at it. My parents were and my mother still is somewhat of a hoarder. They did not throw things away. I have found worksheets from first grade and artwork from when I used to draw in my dad’s office waiting for him to be done with work. When I say artwork I mean scribbles. My parents saved pieces of scrap paper with my scribbles on them.
My mom assured me that this job would take 4 hours. She only had the Uhaul truck for that long anyway. After 5 trips to her storage unit, 2 weekends and 1 weekday later, the job was finally done. I use the word done very loosely. There are still boxes piled in her backyard, waiting to be opened and discarded.
My mom had underestimated both what was in her storage unit and my will to preserve traces of my father. What ended up being in that storage unit was a lifetime of possessions, thousands of stories, and millions of memories. That is how I found myself this morning sitting on the floor of my daughter’s bedroom trying to piece together snapshots of my father’s life.
My father died 10 years ago. If I could guarantee that all of those papers could bring him back to me, not just in memories but in the flesh, I wouldn’t shred or discard a single scrap. Since that’s not the way of the world, holding these scraps and remembering before I send them on their way is all I have for now.