It happens to many of us. You assist your aging parents in getting their affairs in order. You help them sort out boxes, what to save, what to give to so and so, what to give to charity, and what to throw away.
This is what I was doing with my Mom for a few days last June.
Neither of my parents are hoarders. Though living room, dining room and bedrooms are cluttered, one can see the carpet, find ample places to sit, etc. there are boxes and boxes of things saved. The accumulated life of two people who have lived in the same location for 47 years.
They are packrats. Their life, growing up in the Great Depression, in German, never waste households, would have them be.
But things need to be sorted, because their lives and needs are changing. So I brought three boxes out to the living room where my mother was. Three boxes to sort through. Three boxes whose contents had been forgotten.
One box contained old bills and receipts and interestingly enough my checkbook cover that I used when I was 18 (1979). It was a rearing unicorn on light brown sueded fabric. How it got into that box, I'll never know, but I was delighted. It is now in my purse, in use again!
One of the bills was from Mountain Bell with a notation that I owed my parents $19.08 for long distance calls. I snagged it as something from the "olden days" to show my grandkids.
The second box held somethings that seem so trite and, in this day and age, somewhat maligned. It, however, became an accidental time capsule.
It held old letters and Christmas/holiday cards from days long ago. Some written and sent by people long passed.
I watched my Mom open and read every one.
One was a letter I had written to her when I was away at college in Kansas in 1983. We both remarked at how nice my penmanship was back then. I now have that letter for that very reason. "See there once was a time when people could read my handwriting!"
Another was a Christmas card from my Dad's sister, my Aunt "R". She and my mother both traveled to Spain and Morocco together in the 70s. It was some how fitting that this avid gardener would pass on the first day of Spring in 1999. Mom sat for a while and remembered someone who didn't like her at first but over time would become her good friend.
We talked and remembered my aunt's hatred of the rubbery latex monster toys that were popular in the 60s and 70s. At family get togethers one of my cousins (or even my sister or I) would get it into her lap just to watch her jump and scream. It sounds cruel but she would always laugh, even her own kids were in on it.
We remembered how Aunt R would talk and talk and talk to Mom on the phone. These often one sided chat session would many times last so long that if either my sister or me walked in, my Mom would motion to us to ring the front door bell. Then my mother would beg off, telling my aunt that someone was at the front door, and they would have to pick up the conversation later. Hey it wasn't a lie, there WAS someone at the front door.
We talked about her and remembered many things, which probably wouldn't have happened without that card.
She next found a card and letter from her older brother and his wife. She read letter and lamented that she hadn't seen her brother in a while. (They are a year apart.) She hadn't been able to travel to her sister-in-law (his wife) funeral almost a year before. She wondered if he was really going to be able to make it to her granddaughter's wedding, happening that next week. He did.
And this went on for quite a while. A pretty card remarked upon, a person, a time, a place, an experience, remembered, spoken of, maybe for the first time in years.
The annual holiday letter, probably joked about years ago, now brought a smile, and memories.
That afternoon Mom went through every one in that box. The box of 30 and 40 year old cards and letters. Read, remembered and then, after serving this last service, put in the pile to be recycled.
I watched her and realized that in this digital age, we are not making these "accidental time capsules." Very few of us send paper cards or even hand written letters. We do much of it electronically, preferring the speed, and the saving of trees.
We might think that all this electronic communications will be fine and years from now if we want, will just stick the flash drive, etc. into it's port and be transported back. That is, if in 30 - 40 years that is still accessible.
Do you currently have anything on your computer that reads any of these?
I know we dismiss holiday cards (Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Diwali, Solstice, etc.) as a ritual from a by gone era, but maybe we shouldn't. For in our future we will need queues to remember our past, and if we chose, to share the stories with another generation.
Send some holiday cards. Save the ones you receive.
As an added bonus you'll will also be helping the Post Office.
You might also want, if you write one of those status reports, a.k.a. "holiday letters," to educate people about the post office situation . . .
You might even encourage them to send a few cards too.