One of the joys of examining the four boxes of clippings and slides I’ve carted through eight states since I started writing for newspapers and magazines in 1971 is the memories prompted by each. The bride of my youth has been after me for years to sort them out – an urging in which she redefines “sort” as “throw.”
In feigned sincerity, I’ve maintained I’m saving those clippings, notes, magazines, reporter’s notebooks and photos and slides as source material for my biographer. Now, realizing I’ve lived a nominal existence as driftwood in pursuit of a dry bank, I am fully confident, with no regrets, to know that no writer will be examining my life as subject matter for a biography.
With the perspective of time, I realize the yellowed, crinkly clippings of old articles that were so vitally important to me for decades – so important that I carted them from house to house, move by move, state by state – are really no more significant than the cardboard boxes that hold them.
And yet, each story I pull strikes chords, pinging my memory with the characters that marched through my life: their intrigue, character, flaws, political maneuverings under the cover of religion, the revelations. Each of them and all of this was so vitally important – then.
“The next story” consumed my daily work life. Some were as mundane as an 11-year-old girl boxer fighting the boys, or a man’s toy train hobby, or the announcement of program personalities for the next national convention.
Other stories still give me a twinge of pleasure when I recount the events and the people involved: the man who wrestled his single engine plane from a fatal collision with earth just seconds before certain death; Baptists returning from negotiations with the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini; death row interviews; Christian disaster response.
Writers – at least those who save their clippings – enjoy the enviable blessing of leaving a trail through our personal history that we can follow back to the beginnings. Like Hansel and Gretel, our words are the cookie crumbs that prompt the memories that lead us home. They bring back the people, moments, smells, sights, and energy of the moment when we recorded them.
The flying carpet of my memory whisks me back in time. A letter from Ronnie thanking my mission team for a life changing weekend; a congratulatory letter from Wisconsin Congressman Bob Kastenmeier for being valedictorian of my high school class ; my serviceman’s life insurance policy so President Nixon would know where to send the benefit in case the war he kept alive meant my death; my first Leave and Earnings Statement as a grunt in this man’s Army – $189, paid in cash, with which to go wild.
I found the record of the first check I ever wrote: for $1,005 to Luther College for my half of my first semester’s tuition, room and board. I also had a receipt for “drugs” from the Luther College health service…for 93 cents. Must have been for half an aspirin.
I seemed to have a preoccupation with death and love, according to the poems in my journal and English papers. My freshman English theme on Virgil’s Aeneid, about “too much love” earned a note in red from my enchanting, young professor Dagney Boebal. She thrilled my besotted soul when she wrote, “An interesting and original paper.” Although she gave me an A minus…for spelling.
There was a $4.35 receipt for oil and filter change, bearing my dad’s “preferred customer” imprint, since he managed the Farmer’s Union Co-Op where I made the purchase. It’s not the nostalgic yearning for low prices that gives me pause. It’s seeing dad’s imprint on the receipt. He died three years ago.
I reduced four boxes of memories to one, and then tackled the slides. Oh my. They’d spilled out of their little boxes and jumbled 40 years of slides into one big gumbo. I’d reach into that mangle for a handful and hold the 2×2 inch transparencies to a reading light with no chronological reference to time and space.
First, I’d see a Christmas picture with my kids’ grandparents, followed by disaster relief in the Caribbean, to Paris in 1983 to Petra in Jordan and ancient ruins in Israel, to children jumping dirt mounds on their bikes in Oklahoma. It’s disconcerting to go from an engagement picture to a 40th wedding anniversary shot in a minute.
It was dizzying. And delightful.
I pulled fewer than one in 20 slides to scan into my computer. It will take me days. I’ll have Sue Ellen leave food and drink by my door. When I emerge, I may well feel it like Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep for 20 years and missed the American Revolution.
We may be in the midst of another revolution. I’ll participate when I get through these slides.