Packrat habit reveals treasure chest from the past

By Nina Keenam

My mother was a packrat. So am I. I find that when I try to give my home office a good cleaning, it looks more cluttered than when I start. Piles of papers wind up on every available space. Sometimes I just give up and leave it for a day or two. I have a hard time throwing things away.

Recently in one of the stacks I had created while cleaning, I found a plastic bag with some letters in it. I recognized it immediately. One time, Mother had handed me a big bundle of letters I had written home when my family was in Germany. This latest “discovery” was some stragglers from the first bunch that somehow she had left out. They were written late in my husband’s tour of duty and were filled with anticipation of our return to the states. Despite my effort to conceal how homesick I was during those 32 months in Europe, the truth pushed through in those letters. During the last few months, many of our friends had left for new assignments – something I eagerly awaited for our family. We still had not learned where the army would assign my husband.

Right away I called our daughter to read an excerpt from one of those letters. She was just a toddler in those days and took every chance she got to enter forbidden territory – her brother’s room.

A little yellowed sheet of paper, folded four times, showed up in the bag next. It was a note in tiny print from our son, asking Mother to send him some money from his savings account. He wanted to buy a bicycle.

Also included in that batch of correspondence was a letter from Daddy. It was the only letter he ever wrote Mother in their 49 years of marriage. He and a friend owned a one-vehicle bus line. Unfortunately their competition was Greyhound, which put them out of business. They went to Selma to try to sell their bus. They found lodging in a boarding house. The letter was short and to the point. The boarding house food was not good. “Too greasy,” he said. They took in a “bum movie” and did not sleep well that night. They planned to see the prospective buyer the next day. Daddy closed the letter with a few affectionate words, including “I miss you and hope to be home soon.”

His postscript refreshed my memory as to his ever active sense of humor: “We buried the bedbugs in our room this morning. They died from heartburn.”

I was so glad my packrat mother saved those letters.

“Why did you?” I asked. She said she thought they were a family chronicle and a geography lesson rolled into one. She felt I might like to look back over them in the future. She was right. Inside that plastic bag was a little treasure chest of memories – some things I probably would never have thought of again otherwise.

Nina Keenam may be reached at ninak@andycable.com.