January is the month I resift and reorganize and revisit stacks of boxes in the garage.
Not to horrify the relatives that may be reading this, but I was bequeathed with way, way, way too much stuff. My mother was an only child. I was the only granddaughter. Both emotionally and physically these boxes taunt me every time I pass through the garage, twelve months of the year. They whisper,
Read us. See us. Remember us.
So January is the month I sift through, sort a little more, discover and read a few more letters — business letters, fun letters, love letters — from as far back as 1834 and some, earlier. New ideas bubble up from this, sitting on an upside down box in my parka, transported to the land of garden tea parties and horse and buggy, to Smith, Mt. Holyoke and Yale, to the houses I remember in my dreams. My roots dig deeper into the earth with each envelope.
For those of you who follow my winding path, I have been working on a memoir about caregiving in my twenties. Not singly, but collectively, with friends, family, and strangers after my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 47 years old in 1982.
This is not a straight line process, or an easy process, but to me, has been a completely satisfying career choice: Writing to making words show how I survived the good, the bad and the beautiful while taking care of someone I loved with every cell in my body, who was diagnosed with an incurable illness. Some of this is messy. Some is obvious. Some is scary.
Memoir is a maze, and some of the time, over the last two years, I have gone down the ‘rabbit hole’ of story lines. I keep a stack of photographs on every work table from here to Seattle and I am adding to the pile this week. They keep me focused.
Organizationally, I know there are better ways: Pay someone to scan and put the photos on disc. Buy some fancy boxes and sort by year, person, decade. But I like one box per person, and I like my stacks. I like to touch the words, the nests of old dusty letters, and think about what they mean to me today, trace the significance over the decades.
This morning I went from 1834 to 1959 when I came across this black-and-white. And I remember why I write and write and write and try to make sense of all that was given and all that was lost.
Our love affair began early. I’m beginning to think my manuscript is a love letter that I started writing right here, on this summer day, so long ago.