Becoming an artifact
When my mother was in her 90’s I used to kid that she was not old enough yet to be an antique. Antiques, by definition, are 100 years old. But because she had a formidable, archival memory of almost ten decades I kiddingly called her an artifact.
Now that Mom has passed, I guess I have become the family artifact.
Thinking about being the eldest keeper of the family knowledge and heirlooms, takes me back to my last column about all our STUFF… and what to with it. Well, I’ve made a head start. And although it was painful, I’m feeling very virtuous. Well, sort of.
I dove into a box of really old frames, pictures, and more STUFF and there, on the bottom, was my old high school scrapbook. I didn’t know I still had it. I hadn’t seen it in years. As I lifted its overstuffed bulk out of the box, memories came flooding back.
I received it as a gift when I was 13. It was dusty pink leatherette with teenage girls in poodle skirts dancing across the cover. The caricatures of the boys depicted them with crew cuts and saddle shoes. Scattered records mixed with musical notes completed the record hop motif. We didn’t call our dances sock hops – we kept our shoes on.
I sat down on a box in the garage. Reading through this archive was going to take more than a few minutes. I guess when I was in my mid-teens I thought I was creating an album for the ages. I saved everything.
The most obvious contents were all loose – jammed between the pages for safe keeping long after I had stopped meticulously creating the book itself. By the end of sophomore year, I was no longer interested in cutting and pasting.
I dumped all the loose varsity letters, prom invitations, graduation and baccalaureate programs into one pile. There were a few honors certificates, sports night award dinners, and musical programs in the mix.
Back into the scrapbook, I found I had forgotten that I wrote for the school newspaper. My articles were all about rhythm and blues and the latest new rock and roll. This was the era opened by Bill Haley and the Comets playing “Rock Around the Clock” and we were excited. It was our music. Mind you, this was before Elvis, before the Beatles. I had glued in my articles along with Billboard’s top hit lists. I laughed out loud when I spotted Tony Bennett’s name in the top ten.
I found decorations from school dances held for Autumn, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and the ever-popular Spring Fling. Ribbons, invitations, even a few report cards, were pasted into each page in no particular order. My friends’ class pictures were scattered throughout the book – we were ages 13, 14 and 15. A few boys had mysteriously acquired red hearts or X’s and O’s for kisses and hugs.
I turned a middle page to find photos of gawky, skinny boys and shy blossoming girls in bathing suits. Our June class picnics were always held at a lakeside park with swimming. Sitting on my crate in the garage, I grinned remembering how I agonized over the perfect bathing suit that I’d spotted in Seventeen Magazine. I saved through months of babysitting for that bathing suit that was more important than life itself.
After I got to the last page, I quickly looked through it one more time. I gathered up the orange and black varsity “S” letters and organized them. I had earned 16 – four each for field hockey, basketball, softball, and band. I had been so proud of those letters and the varsity jackets we team members wore.
I put an elastic band around the stack of the thick orange letters and gathered up all the other loose memorabilia into a bag.
I placed the crammed plastic bag on top of the now-flat scrapbook, walked across the garage to the trash barrel and threw it all away.
I still can’t believe I did it. It was totally out of character. I’m usually sentimental, but I’ve been thinking about the future and all the STUFF. I had to start someplace.
I rationalized that I hadn’t seen the book in years but as I reviewed and remembered, I enjoyed my mini-reunion.
Only I knew all those people in the pages. Only I have these memories. My children know none of these people. I know that they would throw all this away so I decided to begin to let go . . . before they have to face it.
A little while later I called my lifelong friend from home and told her what I had found. When she showed an interest in it I told her I’d thrown it into the trash. She was upset.
“Why didn’t you give it to our historical society? They’d love to have something like that.”
Historical society? I’m not old enough to personally own anything that they would be interested in. Oh wait a minute – the scrapbook was 65 years old.
Julie said, “That would be a time capsule of our teenage years – an era by itself.”
“It honestly never occurred to me,” I replied.
I felt bad. Not only had I acted out of character, but I denied an appropriate end to those memories, one that would have endured in perpetuity.
Plus now I feel like I really am an artifact – so old I belong in the historical society.
This feeling will pass.
My birthday is in seven weeks.
Marcy O’Brien, who writes from her home in Glade Township, is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She can be reached at Moby.firstname.lastname@example.org.