“I’ve put stickers behind everything valuable in my house because I don’t want my kids to throw them out when I die,” a friend said at dinner. Another chimed in, “Mine will too. They’ll get a dumpster and have a party.” A third said, “I’ve already given my kids everything I want them to keep.”
I always marvel why I’m having this kind of conversation. When I was young, I never thought about what I wanted my kids to value enough to want to keep in the family.
Sitting with my daughter-in-law over my recent birthday weekend, I thought again about what’s valuable in my life. Our conversation had drifted toward papers I considered important, and I got up from my study chair and found a few old notebooks on my closet shelf. Some have ragged black or white cardboard-like covers. The exact kind that I think my kids would pitch when I die, along with mountains of “paper” I’ve accumulated in my post-retirement writing life.
Now, I happen to cherish these “writings.” The old notebooks contain poems my maternal grandmother wrote that my brother typed up on onion-skin paper. Another contains my dad’s thoughtful consideration of the Seven Major Decisions he made in his life time. And copies of his column “Word a Week” in our denominational magazine. Plus copies of my mother’s diary for the years surrounding my birth in 1942.
When I read these papers, I get a sense of life then. The world then. My grandmother, deaf and blind, guiding her thick lead pencil to write her poems, my brother in seminary picking them up from her in her nursing home, and trying to decipher them enough to type them. My dad, when I was one year old, deciding to sign up for the chaplaincy in WW II. My mother caring for us five kids, her diary listing her busy days of cooking, cleaning, baking, sewing, canning, and entertaining people for dinner or coffee and cake.
Then I look at my two file cabinet drawers jammed with my writings. Free writes from classes I’ve taken, writing exercises written for my writing group, writing prompts done on 4×6 cards to jumpstart creative juice. I look at each one and remember when I wrote them. What was going on in my mind. How surprised I was at the turn they took. Try it. Drop a pencil point on a newspaper and write on that word for ten minutes without stopping. Or thinking. What you end up with is always a surprise. You find out what is just beneath that self that you present to the world each day. A delicious part of yourself that’s probably waiting to meet you.
So, of course, I have to do something about all these “papers” if I even dream that they’re important enough for my kids to keep and pass down. That means I have to sort them, weed some out—they’re truly dreadful examples of writing, and get them in some kind of final form.
I see I have at least five years of work ahead of me. But I plan to live as long as my mother who died at ninety-five, so I have over twenty years to tidy up. And hope my kids will keep my efforts.