Picking And Choosing Memories - 11.01.99

The other day, I was doing some fall cleaning in my apartment when I finally reached the last task I had on my mental list for the day. I had already vaccumed the floor, dusted, and washed all my bedding (and dried them on the clothesline- Mmm, mmm fresh), but none of them were as interesting to me as that ending job of putting letters away. I scheduled it down on my list simply because I knew what it would bring. I knew that instead of just filing things away in their respective places, I would sit down on the floor, open the tin up and sit there for some unspecified length of time pulling up memories from paper reminders.

Like a lot of people, I've been keeping letters for some time now. I think I officially started doing it once I started college, because before that time, I had never really gotten much of anything in the mail in regards to letters. Besides random things from school and the ocassional holiday or birthday card, there wasn't really anyone that I kept in contact by with letters.

During my freshman year, it all started up. I didn't yet have e-mail, so I kept in touch with a couple people that I knew from high-school through writing letters. My parents and grandparents would send me little things throughout the year as well, and I found that by the time my first year of college had finished, I had a small stack of things that I couldn't bring myself to throw away. I stored them away in the end of a shoebox with some art supplies and took them all home with me for the summer.

Then, during that first summer, I wrote back and forth with a couple people I had met from college. Not only had I entered into a long-distance relationship (a very, very long distance relationship actually), but there were a couple others that I exchanged notes with once in awhile. When I went back to school in the fall, those letters went in the shoebox with the ones I had from school and the process repeated itself during the four years I was in school, growing almost exponentially every year. Even though I started with e-mail my sophomore year of college, I met more and more people at college and even when we were away for short breaks like Thanksgiving, we'd often times write each other (even if we'd see the person before they actually received the letter). There was something tactile about it that the sterile-ness of e-mail just couldn't match.

By the time that I was ending my junior year of college, I not only had a stack of letters on my floor that I wanted to save, but a tin (an old butter cookie tin had since replaced the end of the shoebox for letter storage) that was completely full as well. Instead of jamming them all in one spot or seperating them out and finding different places to store all of them, I sat down on the edge of my bed and started into a process that I have to go through almost every time I add something to the tin.

Instead of saving every little scrap, birthday card and letter from every person who had written me, I went into that tin and sifted through it until I came to a place where I found letters that I felt like I no longer needed. I pulled them out and looked them all over, then opened a couple of them up and read them one last time before leaning over and depositing them into my trashcan along with several other things that I was throwing out. That first time, it was a batch of letters from someone who I had long since lost touch with, and I decided that it would best be left alone. It was a cleansing in sort of a way, and when I crammed the new letters in the tin and they fit, everything seemed to be in place once again.

Which brings me back to the most recent insertion of letters. This time around, I had quite a pile of things, including post cards and letters from people who had never before been represented in the tin. All the letters and things I had in the tin to that point had been crudely grouped according to who wrote them to me and the date that I received it. Of course, some of them were slightly out of order, but for the most part it worked. I didn't look at them other than when I was putting new things into it, so it wasn't even something that needed to be highly organized in the first place.

After deciding that the newest entries to the tin wouldn't fit unless I took a few things out, I again began the process of weaning down the number of things inside it. As I had suspected, I sat there for nearly an hour just reading old letters that I had gotten and looking over things that I had been sent. I ran across some that made me smile or laugh aloud while others made me feel a little more depressed. Sitting there in that hour, I ran the gamut of emotions while scanning the different handwriting and decorated envelopes, but finally I decided on a batch of letters that I could really live without. I folded them up along with an old birthday card that was taking up far too much space and deposited them all in my garbage can. The new letters slid right into place nicely, with possibly even a bit of room to spare. If you want a space, I'll save one for you.