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home : insight & opinion : guest columns
February 19, 2020

1/20/2020 1:42:00 PM
Letting go of, and holding onto, the past
For the Daily News

I have a better than average memory - at least as far as I recall. I also have a habit of keeping things from my past, partly because we moved around a good deal when I was little and I learned that show and tell wasn't just for kindergarten. "That's right, this rock came from the Alamo..." and such things always added a distraction to the desire to be looked at less critically.

By the time I came to Robinson, I had lived in most of the western states and a few of the southern ones. After I left, I covered the country mostly and took my habit with me. I was a frugal about it; keeping it small in scale and low in cost.

I happened to have a tour guide job for a while that took me overseas, where I got a piece of the oak floor from Marie Antoinette's room at the Palace of Versailles and a rock from Shakespeare's garden. I could hold them again, recall the time I was there, and think I had done something in the process. I had experienced life, my world, and captured a small bit of its essence in the process.

Then came the minimalist movement and I was now seen as a hoarder who had never learned the value of letting go. In my defense, I came from a clan in which family tradition included getting out the old photos and naming the distant relatives for the young folk who never knew them, and telling their stories so that they might know them.

This fell by the wayside as I grew older and moved away, but we would do it again at Thanksgiving before they started having football on TV at the same time and then just the women would do it.

Sadly, with phones in every young face nearly all the time now, the most old folks can hope for is to be part of a multi-tasking process that involves the phone, the TV, the over-the-shoulder staring at something unseen and the customary daydreaming that was always part of being young.

I gave up on the preservation of family history a bit ago after serving on the reunion committee for my high-school class. We had a large group, many of whom like myself had moved here and there around the country.

When I came back home to take care of elders, I had an annual get-together on my back porch for anyone who would come. I put the word out on the Internet, which was new, and got a nice group every fall, having picked the Harvest Festival weekend as a time when many might be back in town. For the reunion I rented an empty store on the square a few years and we'd have them there, in different ones, and I'm sorry to say there are still some possibilities for next year. But people started to give me their things and I became the unofficial curator of a collection I never meant to be in charge of.

I don't own the past, nor do I want to be responsible for keeping it going. I had my time there, I remember most of it, and I'm done with it. The catalyst for this came on slowly at first, but as my grandparents, siblings, cousins, and everyone I knew started to die there were fewer and fewer people to reminisce with about any or all of it.

Having met John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson only matters to people who know who they were. Interviewing Jessie Jackson, or James Francis Farmer impresses no one when you have to explain who they were. Having been at Indianapolis the first time a lap over 150 mph was done is insignificant with the speeds the cars turn now and no, I couldn't tell you who does it best any more.

If you think this is turning out to say I threw everything out after realizing it meant nothing and having embraced the "less is more" Zen of the modern minimalists, you're going to be disappointed. I'm keeping the things that mean something to me, that's all. It pleases me to have them, whether they ever mean anything to anyone else or not.

The 8mm movies that are a pain to project and show no one alive any more where mostly I see people I can't tell you who they are; the chunk of brick from Independence Hall I got on the bicentennial weekend trip to Philadelphia; the John Denver album that still plays and sounds fine on the old record player even though there have been four-track, eight-track, cassette tape and streaming blue tooth players since then.

Some things will need to go. I don't need everything anymore, but the process need not be sudden and I don't want to be shuffled off to a place that smells like bleach and the primary worry is that I might get away. I will get away when ever I feel like it, thank you very much, and I will take all or none of this with me where ever I go.

This is still a free country, I least that's what I've heard, and even though a good deal of it has not felt my tread for some time, it doesn't mean I might not come back any time to see if its changed for the better, or worse, or not at all.

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