Happy 2011, via 1960 and 1963 and 1975 and…

Posted on December 30, 2010

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When my ex and I split almost 20 years ago, the only items of real value to me that I wanted to take were the photos, the children’s memorabilia, my own memorabilia, and  my artwork.  Along the way, some of these items disappeared.  Others were forgotten.

A couple months ago, my ex and his wife decided to go through some unmarked boxes in their attic.  They discovered keepsakes from all three of the children, things I had put away, including their baby books.  My ex called me to say he had found some of my things as well, some of which I hadn’t looked at since junior high.  Two nights ago, I got the small box.  Last night, I went through everything.  In vague chronological order, I discovered:

My elementary school graduation autograph book, a 4.5 in X 6in book of blank pages, in which teachers and students all signed messages to each other.  I have just opened this at random.  It says:

“To my darling daughter who has made me very happy today.

Love, Mother.

PS. Best of luck in Wagner.”

I have sat and stared at this, repeatedly.  My mom has been gone since 1976.  This is one of the very few written things I have from her.  I hadn’t seen this message since she wrote it in 1960.   The next page in the book is a poem from my dad.  It speaks to who my dad was: unschooled, awkward, heartfelt.

Another page at random:

“Dear Renee, If Johnny W lived across the sea,

What a good swimmer Renee would be.

Lots of luck at Wagner and with Johnny!”

I don’t know who Johnny was, and my memory of that time in my life is that I placed boys in the same category as venomous snakes, with the exception that snake bites, if caught early enough could have anti-venom administered.  But, according to my mom, there was no anti-venom for boys.

A junior high photo of my best friend and myself, taken in one of those “4 for 25 cents” photo booths.  I wore white lipstick and suspenders.  There are no words to adequately describe my hairstyle.  My best friend Susan, unlike me, looks perfectly normal.

A letter dated 8/21/63 from someone by the name of “Rocky” to inform me that she and her father “gave Marty hell” and that she and I would be getting “all the money that was due to us, including tips.”  It ended with “Marty is a wretched fart!” I assume Marty was the owner of the one and only restaurant I ever worked at.  I was, without a doubt, the most inept waitress ever, but I smiled a lot and so no customers yelled at me.  I’m glad I got my money, although I don’t remember that it was ever withheld from me.  I was probably just grateful at the time to escape with my life.

An instruction sheet on dealing with facial pimples, including foods to avoid, from Milton Cahn, MD, Philadelphia.  Presumably his advice worked before the next item occurred:

A bunch of love letters from “Richard D,” who I believe worked for the sound company that produced the Newport Folk Festival and who I shared a trailer with.  I have read a couple of these letters, all written from the road.  In addition to Richard being besotted with me, the letters are a precious snapshot of the late 60s from someone who, because of his profession, came into contact with all the great musicians and singers of the day.

From the Vernon Manor Hotel in Cinncinati: “I wasn’t planning on this gig, but it includes Cleveland and Detroit and the remainder of the Beach Boys tour, with a trip to Europe with the Beatles.”

Dozens of letters from the students I taught, wishing me the best when I left to have a baby.  In addition, there was a letter from me to them, that I read aloud to the class.  I flip through their letters and realize that many of these students are now over age 50 and most likely have more grandchildren than I do.

All of the baby cards I received after my daughter was born.  In addition, there is a 1976 calendar (Winnie the Pooh, to be exact).  April 12, the day of her birth, is circled, nothing more.  The rest of the dates are mostly doctors’ appointments, with one baby shower entry and one photographer’s appointment.  It doesn’t take much to see what life with a 12 month old and a newborn was reduced to.

It’s interesting that I have received all this, just as this year is about to end.  As I look at each card, each letter, each photo, no time has passed.  I am rooted in place, in the exact moment that the letter was first read, the photo was first taken, the card was first opened.  I am also aware that had I left my marital residence with these items back in 1992, they would have been stored, with everything else, in my attic.  I probably wouldn’t have even looked at them when they went into storage, and certainly at no time since.  But in an inexplicable way, I can relate many of these items to some of the events that are enfolding in my life now.

Sometimes, messages take many forms.  And they can come upon us when we least expect them.  We just have to pause for a moment to recognize them.

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