Wondering and wandering....

Musing and muttering...

Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond
Hyannis, Massachusetts, USA
August 09
Sole Proprietor
Cape Cod Art and Nature
Nature Columnist for weekly Cape Cod Newspapers. Artist, writer, naturalist and educator putting it all together to make a living.


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APRIL 1, 2011 3:35PM

When a Packrat Does Spring Cleaning...

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Family treasures photo by Mary Richmond 

My family has a long genetic history of collecting, saving and storing things and it would appear that very few of us escaped the gene. We are not hoarders in the same sense of some of the folks you see on those voyeuristic TV shows that have brought serial hoarding right up there with say, serial killing. We are more along the lines of what used to be called pack rats with stuff in a few boxes here and other stuff over there and well, maybe some under the bed. Oh, and don’t open….that closet door. As the other pack rats have died off they have left me alone with their boxes of treasures and memories and each spring I plow through more of them and send them on their way, out of my house. Still, some remain, causing a bit of a quandary every time it is time for spring cleaning.

 We used to say my grandmother, instead of throwing them away, cut up each and every newspaper and magazine she had, sorted them according to what articles and pictures she thought each would like and then packed them off in old manilla envelopes and sent them off to each of her children and grandchildren. As a receiver of these weekly envelopes one never knew quite what to think. Did she really think I knew everyone at the huge university I attended when she sent me a tiny piece of newsprint with the name of someone else listed as going there in her hometown paper? And what was I to do with the dozens of pictures of kittens she had carefully cut out and then painstakingly captioned in her grandmotherly but funny way? This was long before online links and YouTube videos that just clog up cyberspace but not our physical closets or the basement. These were actually paper items I had to weed through and either toss or save while the rest of the family had to do the same with the sports, theater reviews or the dress ads they had received. Many of these papers were thrown away but some ended up stuffed into boxes and hidden in closets or under the bed and over the years were simply forgotten.

 Each spring I tackle some more of my family’s boxes and over the years I’ve cleaned out probably hundreds of envelopes, bags, boxes and file folders filled with all sorts of recipes, craft projects, old jokes from pre World War II that were cut out of old Reader’s Digests and so on and so forth. “Just toss ‘em,” says my sister but each time I go through a box or folder or envelope I find a little treasure. I find funny pictures of my grandparents, old hand written accounts of vacations and trips, pictures from my own childhood and other odds and ends. I weed through the old menus, napkins, matchbook covers and playbills and as I work my way through the years the stories my mother and grandmother told come to life. Here is a playbill from Radio City Music Hall and here is one from a concert in Boston. My family didn’t have a lot of money and trips like these went down in family history as epic adventures. When I hold them in my hands I can see and hear the story tellers themselves even though now they’ve now been gone for years.

 These days there are few boxes or envelopes left. Gone are the old scrapbooks of greeting cards and programs. Gone are most of the silly notes, drawings and letters my mother and her sister wrote when they were children. I’ve saved a few to put in a memory box I’m making for their grandchildren and great grandchildren and I have saved the old photos as well. Gone are the boxes of articles and pictures of movie stars, full of must and mold. I have sold some things, given away many things and packed box after box for thrift store sales. I have supported the recycling effort in my town with what may be tons of paper.

 Family treasures photo by Mary Richmond


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I love your poignant description of the content of your boxes. And this is a truly great line: 'As the other pack rats have died off they have left me alone with their boxes of treasures and memories'! As a packrat with a love for the ephemera of history myself, I can relate to your reasons for not just tossing the stuff outright.
I watch that Hoarder show with horror. I am a brutal throw it away person. But I can respect that you like to savor things. That is what they say when they help someone clean up. What you have you need to honor. If it is important enough to keep it needs to be cared for. Much like people in you life. Good writing!