Sorting through a box of things that once occupied a drawer in my late father’s desk, I stumbled upon a non-descript white business-size envelope. It had some stains, but didn’t look particularly old. There was no writing on it, but it was stuffed full. From it, I pulled an odd assortment of papers.
The envelope contained a letter from an attorney to my Maternal grandfather. Written in 1939, the letter concerned settlement of a complaint regarding vehicle that a neighbor borrowed without consent and returned with damage.
The envelope also contained a postcard that I mailed from a Junior Achievement event in Bloomington, Indiana in 1984, a drawing I did at age 17 (in the style of a small child) of “My Family” in magic marked on notebook paper, and a handful of photographs of my brother and myself, my grandparents, and my own children.
There were a couple more letters — one from a missionary in Mali, and one from my grandmother to Dad about a run of the mill Sunday in July 1952.
These photographs and documents seem to have little in common to warrant their inclusion in a single white envelope. The unifying feature is only that Dad found them significant in some way. These documents, spanning some 70 years or more, somehow belonged together in my dad’s mind (and filing system).
Why do we include this one, and not that one? I find myself asking that questinoa lot these days as I sort through boxes from multiple years spanning multiple marriages and multiple homes — differnt worlds, differnt lives, it seems.
Today I went through a large carton of notebooks and research/theme papers from my undergrad years (1999–2006). When I finished with “when in doubt, throw it out,” a large garbage can was full, and my “keep” stack measured approximately 1.5″ thick. Why, exactly, my paper on one subject needed to be kept, while another went into the trash is hard to put into words. Looking back, I kept the ones that contained personal stories — my written history. Some day these might mean something to someone. Even 10 years later, they bruoght to mind things I had forgotten — once-treasured memories buried by new experiences.
I can’t bear to discard Dad’s white envelope. It doesn’t take up much space. Perhaps it was just a holding spot for things that meant something to him — memories that resisted classification. The envelope is now in my own desk drawer, where it will likely stay until someone is clearing it out because I’m no longer able to use the desk myself. I think, perhaps, I will add to it my own memories that resist classification – a time capsule of unrelated things that hold a secret meaning, waiting to be rediscovered.