Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Dictionary.com deinfes nostalgia as "a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life"

For the last few weeks, I've been feeling nostalgic for those months before my father passed away. I know, it's crazy. Still my mind seems to wander back there when I least expect it. Sometimes it feels like a sucker punch, other times, a simple remembrance, not sad or painful, of something that I connect with Dad.

Today it started with a post on my friend Wholly Jeanne's blog and this picture:
Picture by Wholly Jeanne, http://thebarefootheart.com/
A tin box. That's all it took to be transported to a former time in my life.

It reminded me of the green file box, probably pilfered from the Navy 50 years ago (does that make it an antique or evidence in a court of law?) that sat among the other geegaws on my father's desk. The box was a holdover, actually, from my mother's very organized Christmas habits. It housed the names and addresses of the people she sent cards to every year.

Back in the day when postage was affordable and people sent cards to old friends that weren't seen very often as well as church members and neighbors, the box was full of 3 x 5 index cards, each printed   in my mom's legible style. Also in the box were the torn off return address labels from cards received the previous year. If someone moved Mom crossed off old addresses and neatly added a new one. There was room on the front of the card for several addresses. Most of their retired Navy friends had settled in one spot they had called home for decades.  Mom's wandering children and grandchildren were the ones that kept messing up her orderly cards.

By the time I moved back home,  Mother's brain damage had robbed her of this holiday chore along with most others that required reading or writing. Dad took it over and added his own organizational style. It was a toss-up which would have been easier to read, mom's aphasia-zapped lettering or Dad's handwriting that even Navajo code talkers would have had trouble deciphering. Dad took over buying the cards ( usually a snow covered house with a wreath on the door or mailbox, Old Glory waving from the flagpole in the yard, and a redbird sitting on a picket fence.) addressing them, writing notes to friends, including checks for his children, and posting them. The process began in September when he ordered the cards from the NRA. As soon as the Thanksgiving turkey became soup, Dad would spend the time between breakfast, crossword puzzle and lunch working on the cards. The green box sat open and empty. Its once indexed addresses, lay in a jumble near Dad's Cross pen and toothpicks. Last year's address labels were on the floor close to, but not in, the trash can. As he completed each card, Dad would add the current year's date to the blue-lined card as a way of keeping track.

Near the end, the number of cards dwindled along with Dad's energy level.  Dad passed away a month after Christmas. The cards had all been mailed, but the half-used box and thank you gift from the NRA - a bullet shaped flashlight- remained where he left them.  It took a few weeks before I could muster the energy courage to go through the contents of his desk, which was actually Mom's sewing table with the wings opened up, placed next to a 5 foot plastic table, placed next to his computer table, placed next to the table that held his TV. It went around the corner in a way that only a civil engineer could figure out. Straightening out the electrical cords and figuring out which plug went with which piece of office equipment could have used a schematic.  Long past were all those afternoons when I sat by Dad's bed listening to the sound of his breathing and yearned to clean up the messy desktop (you'd laugh if you could see my desk. Let's just say this pig doesn't stray far from the sty.) In a strange turn of grief-filled events, with Dad gone, the mess didn't bother me. Perhaps the desk was just a metaphor for the parts of our relationship that still needed to be tended to.

If I close my eyes I can conjure up a vision of the area that had become my father's sanctuary in his last year. Many seldom used items on the desk were treasures from a by-gone era. The brass stamp holder, the Naval Academy clock that no longer worked even though we'd taken it to the repair shop several times, the family tree frame containing grade school pictures of his daughters, the bullets he had the wisdom to remove from the gun he kept locked in his closet, his wedding ring hanging from a gold chain, his pen knife, envelopes, wadded up tissues, checkbooks, a half-used roll of Rolaids, mints that were no longer minty and the green tin box.

Eventually I made my way to the desk. I tossed most of its contents with wild abandon. Some things I put aside as keepsakes. I can remember holding the file box in my hands and wondering, toss or keep. Turns out I tossed the addresses but kept the box. I found it today at the bottom of a drawer covered with stuff my children will one day have to decide whether to toss or keep.  As I look at it and hold it, I find there is no emotion attached to it. It's a box, right?  Yet the sight of Jeanne's box hooked the memory of it and pulled it to the forefront of my brain.

While speaking with a grief coach last week I had a light bulb moment. Memories, she said, are not just stored in our heads or our hearts. They remain in our bones, our muscles. It often occurs, she told me, that after a chiropractic adjustment, people will have an emotional meltdown because stored energy/memory had been released. I think that must be why we can be transported back to a different time and place when we hear a song from our high school days or smell an old lover's cologne. Like a green tin box filled with blank index cards, memories are tucked away waiting to return with us to another time and place.

I saw God today, in the unlikliest of places - a green tin box filled with memories.
Where do you store your memories?
Merry ME


Anonymous said...

I'm nowhere as sentimental as I used to be. I won't torture myself like that anymore. I think I've gotten to be very cold as a person. If something hurts me, I won't go back to prod the wound. I'll focus on something else that I can do something about that keeps my emotional equilibrium on track.

But then again, I don't like my parents. And you loved yours.

We all respond differently based on our history.

((hugs and happy Tuesday!))

AkasaWolfSong said...

I've tears streaming down my face as I read your words...
I know what your grief coach says to be absolutely true. I've experienced it many, many times, as I'm sure you have too. I see it in the generational trauma of American Indians, and other ethnic peoples, races and cultures.
When my Dad passed I stayed in his home for about a month...I was supposed to be going through his things to be gotten rid of. The only thing I could do was sit and remember things, at every turn. Finally one morning I awoke and decided that was the day, and called my other two sisters and we went to town, after which I felt punch drunk and in pain physically ,but the task was done.
However, there are some things which I hold too Mary, as you have. How can we not? My kids say I'm a pack rat, but I'm not that bad, lol. Just some things I cannot part with. I hope they will hang on to them but who knows?
FireKeeper listens to the stories attached to my dad's medals, etc., so I know where some of it will go and that brings me peace.
I pray we understand ourselves Sister, one of these fine days.
I saw God today in the face of my sleeping grandson. His birthday is tomorrow and I was walking down memory lane remembering the day he was born.
Hugging You Tightly Mary...