Do you keep a diary? Journal? Any sort of daily record?
I don’t. I’ve tried and manage to keep it for a week or two but … it doesn’t last.
If you’re a scrapbooker, do you journal on all your pages? Beyond the basics of who is in the photos, where they were taken, and what was happening in them, do you add personal context? Commentary on the weather or funny things that were said at the time? Maybe you keep a Project Life style album, awesome! How much of the every day “stuff” do you record?
The reason I’m asking is because recent events have opened my eyes to just how valuable that written record is, and how important it is to pair it with our photographic record. Can I share my ‘a-ha’ moment with you today?
Thirty years ago this April 27th, my parents were killed in a car accident. I was 14 and my brother was one day shy of turning 18. In that instant, my parents became frozen in time. There was no longer any way to go back and ask them to clarify something, or tell us the story of our birth again, or ask them if we hated broccoli as a child too. All the information we were ever going to learn about them had either already been given to us (so we’d better try and remember it) or was in the contents of our house.
My mum’s sister came over from India, where she was a teacher, to help us. It wasn’t practical for her to stay and look after us, but she was invaluable in packing up our house. Most of the larger items were sold off, and any bills that came in were paid off, but everything else got packed into boxes for my brother and I to deal with at a later date. And I mean everything! Every plate, cup, knife, fork, note pad, newspaper clipping, half-finished letter, you name it, it got put into a box and meticulously labeled.
Fast forward to three weeks ago.
My brother managed to dislocate his shoulder in an extremely awkward way that required a hospital stay, several attempts to put it back into place (the final one under anesthetic), and a brace that forces his arm to remain in a certain position 24/7. Work was off the table so … we decided to tackle the remaining boxes of our parents’ things that we hadn’t gone through yet. We’d already dealt with most of the household items and divvied up the larger pieces long ago. But we knew there were boxes of papers that would take a bit of time to go through.
You see, despite moving half way across the world multiple times in their marriage, my parents were pack rats! They kept everything! Especially my Dad. I can not even begin to convey the sheer volume of “stuff” in those boxes! We knew it was going to be a huge job with potentially emotional side effects, which is probably why we’d been putting it off for so long.
What a treasure hunt it turned out to be!
Hidden amidst the mountain of newspaper clippings (dating all the way back to the mid-60’s) and engineering books, were notebooks, journals, postcards received, and copies of letters written. My parents were prodigious letter writers! This was well before the advent of email, so every letter was hand written or typed and they kept carbon copies of most of them. See what I mean? Pack rats!
It is going to take us weeks (who am I kidding, it’ll takes months/years!) to properly read, organize and catalog all of those letters so we’ve just put them aside for another time (yes, still pushing things off to later!) But we did take the time to skim a few of the journals. My Dad was pretty diligent at keeping a diary. He wrote down notes on the weather, events that were taking place, and more mundane things like if one of us was home from school with a cold or something. You know, the boring every day type things that we probably don’t think are important enough to document. But wow! Looking back now through the perspective of two kids who lost their entire world in an instant, that stuff matters!
As I was flipping through one journal from 1975 – a rather more sparse journal than most of his, so I took particular interest in the entries that were there – I came across several entries where he talked about us being ill and some amazing walks he took. I stopped to read it more carefully and eventually determined that he was referring to the time we went trekking in Nepal on our way home to England from Indonesia. You see, I had vague memories of Mum telling me how I rode on the back of a Sherpa through the Himalayas but didn’t really put much stock into it. Until reading these entries.
Completely mundane notes like “Alison was very sick in the head with a cold” and “nobody slept well last night” and “Andrew feeling better – ate all his porridge”, suddenly took on a whole other meaning! We were probably suffering from altitude sickness!
Who takes two children under the age of 5 trekking in Nepal?!
I was completely fascinated by these entries but there were only a few notes so we were still mostly in the dark about the trip. We needed more context!
The next box brought us that context in a huge way.
Pardon the photo quality but I snapped this with my phone. This is my actual Trekking Pass! As you can see, I was a baby!! About 18 months old to be precise.
Suddenly those words had new meaning. Here in front of me I held a memory keepers dream! The trekking passes (there was one for each of us – my brother’s photo shows him looking slightly less than impressed), plus letters from the booking agents, airline tickets, hotel receipts, official looking letters from the local government, and more! The scrapbooker in me is absolutely screaming to be let at them! LOL! And yet I thought that without the words of my Dad’s, these papers would be close to useless. Interesting for sure, but without much to fill in the gaps.
That’s why the words are so important! They fill out the details that all the ticket stubs and photos can’t. (I haven’t talked about photos today for a very good reason. They are in a separate location – i.e. my dining room! My Dad was also an avid photographer so we have boxes and boxes of slides and prints to sort through. Again, at a later date! Once we put them all together, the words, documents and photos, this will be one amazing story!)
I also found it extremely interested that it was my Dad who had written down the words, but my Mum who had kept the memorabilia. Team work at its best!
It made me take a step even further back and look at my own documentation. I’ve got a lot of photos, quite a few ticket stubs and wrist bands etc, but what I am lacking is the written component. Yes, I’m still able to go back and add notes. To quiz my husband on things as his memory is WAY better than mine – especially when it come to trivia! But what if the unthinkable happened to me? Or him? Who would know the back story to the goofy photos of Paige or why there are so many photos of Marley under a blanket?
I need to do better at writing it down!
None of us are going to be around forever, and all of us have an important story to tell. A story only we can tell! A story that needs to be told in our own words so that future generations can get to know us a little and maybe find answers to why they also like to read gruesome murder mysteries or can’t stand mushrooms. You know, those mundane things that none of us feel is important enough to write down!
I know that today our written record is often already on social media platforms for the world to see. But maybe we need to keep a copy a little closer to home too? I know I will make an extra effort to write the stories down as soon as they happen. How about you?
Something to think about this week, no?