The Life-Changing Art of…

This week I am tackling one of several spaces that have become storage — well maybe a graveyard — of memorabilia. I had no problem with tossing knitting projects that I will never attempt. I donated the dozens of unopened notebooks. There was no question the fifteen sets of single sheets, from decades of bunkbeds, would go to the Salem Mission. Cookbooks I haven’t cracked open for ten years — OUT. But after the garage and recycle bins filled, I was staring at paper. So much paper. Precious paper.

There is a lot of hype around Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. So as I opened the boxes, some eighty, ninety and even one hundred years old, I tried to channel her words.

“Just throw them away,” she orders.

But enter the conflict: She also consuls, “Keep the things that spark joy.”

Now what?

One box, marked ‘mementos,’ has childhood letters and cards my mother, deceased for thirty years, wrote her parents. Like this one penciled on crumbling, musty notepaper:

Alexandra Hammer, May 23rd, 1943

Alexandra Hammer, May 23rd, 1943

She married twelve years later, into a staunch German family where headcheese was the featured dish on the Christmas sideboard. This box brings me joy. My grandfather’s spindly, carefully penciled notation on the envelope notes, “Poems written by Alexandra with no help except for spelling during a practice air raid.”

I sit back on my heels, the contents of the box spread around me and this pile of paper sparks even more than joy. I close my eyes and see this little girl in pigtails, hunkered down next to her father, impeccable in his bowtie, delivering her best blow to the enemy. I remember my grandfather, the loving father who saved her notes so carefully in the rose-patterned box. He, too, recognized the legacy of remembering and holding messages from our past. I smile, knowing what I know, that she grew up just as feisty when the pigtails were cropped, when her marriage ended, when the cancer arrived.

I also found this drawing by my youngest daughter.

EDG, date unknown.

EDG, date unknown.

The pencil marks are thick, pressed deeply into the paper. If I had to guess, sketched when she was six or seven years old. But what struck me was the size of her prince compared to her princesses. She was getting  that right fourteen years ago, putting those princes into perspective.  Especially if he is wearing those ridiculous toe shoes.

I will be pulling this out for her wedding. This sparks joy, the thought she will find someone of her own one day, that looks her in the eye, that she deems worthy.

I am practicing the life-changing art of recognizing joy. These boxes of old, especially very old correspondence, travel diaries, love letters, Christmas cards tie me to my past, make real the invisible thread from then to now, from them to me. Make me happy. Make me think. I love a clean set of shelves as much as the next person, but sorry, I have to stack a few boxes there, after I’m done dreaming.


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