Box of memories
Last month my brother sent me a giant box of stuff he cleaned out of our mother’s basement – nothing like getting a cubic yard of memories, a raw and unedited history of my life. We moved a lot, and I assumed my lack of photos and mementos was because they had all gotten lost along the way. Not so. Here are pictures going back to before I was born and up to about age 19, along with letters, birthday cards, report cards and more.
First I gave the photos a quick run-through, gasping in horror at some of the 1970s outfits, or a picture of someone from high school I’d rather not think about. I threw away a lot. Next I organized the photos by where we lived at the time – Fairmont, Bridgeport, St. Paul and Charleston, West Virginia; Arlington, Virginia; Houston, Texas, with subsets of school portraits from 1st through 12th grades, beach vacations, trips to visit grandparents, etc.
This was way before digital cameras were invented and most pictures were from various birthday parties or holidays. Back then you had to buy film and load the camera, then carefully pose everyone so you wouldn’t have a blurry or wasted shot. As a result, all the photos have a self-conscious quality of trying to put one’s best face foward, literally, or the opposite depending on how young or rebellious the subject was.
The most interesting thing is how my memory and the reality do not match up. In my memory, I was a really good student, an ace at math, and generally “Miss Perfect” throughout high school. But my teachers and my grades don’t reflect that at all, at least not in 11th grade, which is as far as the reports go. Almost all my teachers commented that I was distracted and clearly not trying hard enough. One wrote in detail about my “occasional really quite astonishing lapses in attention.” Who was that girl? And how did I ever get accepted to Stanford? They would scrap my application on first review today. Maybe I rallied in 12th grade; I can’t remember.
It’s not like I had a traumatic high school experience. In fact it was completely normal, which says a lot about just how bad high school can be if someone like me cringes while revisiting my 16-year-old self. I really liked my grade school self a lot, though, and would happily go back to being that snaggle-toothed tomboy for a few days.
If I’d had the opportunity through the years, I would have curated this box and kept only what pleased me or presented me in the best light. And while it’s a little shocking to go back and look at the raw data, it’s also a huge gift. I’ve been time traveling, and as in any good story, there are highs and lows, funny chapters and scary chapters, and in the end, the main character has emerged older, wiser, and a survivor. Thanks, Bro!