I spent a part of this past weekend taking a walk down memory lane. It’s always an interesting thing for me, reliving the past. Sometimes when I go back there, when I let my mind wander, when I let myself “feel” — I don’t know whether to laugh, or cry, or both.
It all started with some work on what I will affectionately call my “Home Office Project.” I am finally putting the last of the “paper” back in its rightful place. You know — those piles that multiply like rabbits, those papers that you don’t know whether to save or throw away, those documents that may or may not hold any importance. I am also finally putting all of the errant scrapbook pages into albums. Finally feeling ready to sit down and get my money’s worth and let the creativity and passion flow in the space that is dedicated to the realization of my dreams and aspirations (and the creative pursuits of my daughters). In going through all of those piles of papers, bills, photographs, and memories, I came across a few things that caused me to take pause. Some made me happy. Some made me nostalgic. Some made me sad. And some called to the surface some resentment and anger that I thought I had long since locked away in the Don’t Think About This Anymore Vault. But good, bad, or indifferent — these emotions and these collective experiences have helped shape me into the woman I am today. And, some stories are just begging to be told.
In the first leg of my organizing, I found photos of my babies when they were babies. I found pictures of old boyfriends. I found pictures of me with my “broccoli” hair-do (as my sister so affectionately called it). I found a letter from my parents to me when I graduated from high school. I found pictures of me as a young girl with long pigtails.
I found pictures of me going to proms.
I found a picture of the World Trade Center that I took from the Empire State Building on a trip to NYC with an ex-boyfriend. I was in college then. Seeing that picture made me cry. I think I will always cry when I think about the World Trade Center.
My daughters found pictures and a couple scrapbook pages about our beloved dog, Nubia. They cried. I think they will always cry when they think about the dog that they loved for the first nine and six years of their respective lives.
So many memories. So many different hair-dos. So many snippets of my life (our lives) that have been immortalized forever.
In the second leg of my organizing, I came across a series of terse, loveless letters from my uncle. He was the executor of my grandmother’s estate, and I am really not sure why I saved those letters — aside from the fact that, at the time, I probably thought there was some legal benefit in doing so. The first was an emotionless laundry list of all the things he had to do as executor. How he would go about divvying up my grandmother’s (and grandfather’s possessions). The second paper I came across was a letter I had written to him, letting him know that I did not want, or expect, anything of value — as my mom is one of five children and I knew that my grandmother’s estate would be divided amongst my aunts and uncle. In that letter, I explained how important it was for me to be able to share my lineage with my children, so I would love copies of pictures, letters with old handwriting, copies of my grandfather’s firefighting memorabilia, old linens, etc. (At the time my grandmother passed away, my children were four and one – not old enough to really remember. They had only spent bits of time with my grandmother and they never had the privilege of meeting my grandfather.)
I received a sterile reply stating he would “do his best” and would “be in touch.” Fact of the matter is, he was neither his best or in touch. What he did was keep all of the good stuff for himself and his children. He exercised his control and his power as executor, but he never bothered to utilize any kindness or exhibit any love in his communications. When all was said and done, he presented my mother, my sister, and I a ratty trash bag full of things that even the Salvation Army would turn away. No memorabilia. No photos. No family history. Seeing those letters reminded me how angry I was at the time. Reminded me how he singlehandedly robbed my children of ever having any tangible evidence of my grandparents’ existence. Reminded me of his selfishness. He had a choice back then. He could have acted with character, compassion, and dignity, or he could have been cold, selfish, and unloving. He chose the latter. It’s unfortunate. Sometimes Memory Lane is littered with rubbish.
While I was organizing, my girls wanted to sit down at my space and work on some “projects.” They love sitting at the new craft space and it makes me happy to see them so content and so creative. It truly makes the cost of this renovation, and the accompanying mess, all worthwhile. In order to do their “projects” — they both requested photos. That prompted me to go through the stacks of images, and boxes of negatives that I had scattered all over the house. While looking through my boxes of pictures (none of which are organized in any meaningful way), I came across an image of my father. It was in a stack entitled “To Be Scrapbooked.” He was alone in the picture, sitting outside our house, wearing a red t-shirt, donning his big glasses, signature smug look on his face.
Honestly, I have no idea why it was there, or what on earth I planned on saying about him in a scrapbook page. Quite frankly, he has caused more pain than I care to remember, and I try to mention him and acknowledge that I am his offspring as little as possible. But, at one point in time, I must have considered letting his legacy live on. That one photo got me thinking. He was not a good father, nor was he a kind man. And, he has not been an active part of my life for the better part of the last two decades. But, just as my children deserve to know that their great grandfather was a Boston firefighter who had a stroke and loved to watch M.A.S.H. and Lawrence Welk; their great grandmother loved to go to the theatre, made a mean scrambled egg, prayed with her rosary beads daily, and claimed she had a seven-part name — they also deserve to know that my father existed, however painful his part in my life might have been. I will have to work to remedy that. Because, aside from knowing that he was “not a nice man and he got divorced from your mom because he was mean,” they also should know that he was a gifted athlete, he loved American history, my mom put him through school so he could become a teacher, he loved dogs, he worked with mentally retarded adults and made their lives better, and he taught me how to swim, throw a baseball, and unfortunately — how to fight (which I have spent the better part of the past two decades trying to unlearn). He was not a good father or a good husband — but he deserves his rightful place in my history and I will have to portray it as honestly as I can, painful or not. Cherry picking my past and only painting pictures of the good times would be completely dishonest and I would be doing both my children and myself an incredible disservice. They will never meet him in person, because my husband and I have decided that it would be an incredibly unhealthy and potentially damaging relationship for my children, but they should be allowed to read about him in the compilation of my memories. And, I should be able to, at this stage of the game, both acknowledge his flaws, yet also celebrate the few things he did that made me smile.
My mom came over Saturday night. My husband was working and we decided to have a Girls’ Night In. We made a delicious dinner, and sat at the table with my two daughters for an eternity because they kept begging us to “tell just one more story.” It was a lot of fun, and it made them laugh to hear some of the funny stories from my childhood. They loved hearing about how my other grandfather (my father’s father, who we lived upstairs from) would sing opera in the driveway, while he sunbathed and drank copious amounts of wine (they agreed, they would be mortified if we did anything like that). How my sister drew pimples and back hair on my beloved Prince poster, which sent me into a fit of rage (insert evil grin from my youngest, as I can see her conjure up new ways to annoy her older sister). How we didn’t have cordless phones, so we would try to stretch the cord as far as we could to try to get a little privacy. How my dad fell over on his bicycle because the chain fell off and he couldn’t get his feet out of the toe-clips in time (uprorious laughter at cartoon-like image of grown man tipping over on bike in slow motion). How my mom created the story of the Black Hawk Gull of Foogiyama to outsmart a disobedient friend on a camping trip to Horseneck Beach. How my aforementioned paternal grandfather would wrap dry dog food in tin foil and call that his special Easter egg hunt (I swear — I could not make this stuff up if I tried!).
There was a lot of laughter on Saturday night, proving that even though Memory Lane might be littered with rubbish, it is also filled with lots of beautiful flowers and trees that have deep roots. And, trees with deep roots know about the things that families need most.
The perspective you have when you look back at the past from the present is totally uncanny. I truly believe that the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror for a reason – and you should spend the majority of your life in forward motion. But, I also know in my heart of hearts that looking backwards for a spell sometimes has a funny way of propelling you forward. Sometimes, those painfully imperfect stories can serve as a happy reminder of just how far you have come. Cheers to memories, both good and bad, and the act of constantly moving forward with purpose. Today, I feel no pain, anguish, or anger over those photos and pieces of paper. Today, I feel grateful for my stories and am looking for a way to incorporate all of them into my scrapbook pages and journals. Because, quite frankly, stories like mine are meant to be told.