Thinking Outside the Box

out of box collection

When we first moved onto our empty land we bought a grungy little Trailblazer camper for $250 to give us one step up from a tent in terms of lodging.  That trailer has since become a catch-all for whatever we don’t know what to do with.  Today I decided to organize and clean it out.  While I was digging down into endless totes and boxes, I found the “remnants” of a past life.  One box was filled with things I had packed in Rapid City that had not made it out of the box for 5 years.  I noticed my reactions as each item emerged; myy little elephant collection, an eagle feather from the island of Atka, Alaska,  where the eagles were so big they looked like small cows, a broken peacock feather from who knows where, a  double dream-catcher . . . and there were the two  strands of beads and shells (one red, one blue) that Mary Greene made for us as we recorded her son and grandson in the far north of Washington state in Neah Bay–Makah Country.

Everything that mattered most to me fit in a single box.  There was a framed weaving with colored bits of yarn leading to the plants from which the natural dyes were extracted.  I bought it from a native woman in the southwest while we were traveling.  I’ve loved it but never hung this because it didn’t have a hanger on back.  In the bottom of the box were two slabs of stone with a Kokopelli and other symbols painted on them in black—bought from a native guy along the edge of the Grand Canyon on yet another journey.

These were the things that I couldn’t part with in the great cleansing of our lives.  They were the gifts and symbols of a long journey now tucked away, sight unseen, for 5 years.  I was happy to see them again—and so aware of how this new decade of my life is unfolding.

I moved on.  Two large copy paper boxes held all of the notebooks I have filed over multiple decades of my life.  I can’t seem to decide whether it would be wise or foolish to burn them one night over a cozy, cleansing campfire.  What would it be like to watch those million plus words simply go up in smoke?  Would it be freeing? Would it be mournful?

I do know that I would love to read anything (anything!) left behind to tell me more about what my mother or grandmothers actually thought about their lives as they struggled, grew gardens, raised children . . . .  Their thoughts and feelings and yearnings are a mystery to me—caught somewhere off in the mists of time.

A few weeks ago I was driving by the house that my mother grew up in.  It has been empty and in decline for quite awhile.  The trees and bushes have grown so high that they hide the house almost totally from view.  A car was parked outside, so I pulled in and called “hello” into the back screen door.  A man came out.  We introduced ourselves.  It turned out he is the son of Red Benson, my high school principle and a man I wrote a short story about called West Toward Berkely.  We chatted a bit, and I begged him to let me wander the house a bit.  He was uneasy and warned me that it was a mess, but he let me in.  It was in a sorry state—ruined carpets, stained walls, a hole in the ceiling above a large bin almost overflowing with water.

Deep in the center of my brain, however, the neural networks were lighting up.  I saw my grandmother sitting in her oversized chair with her embroidery on her lap, me on the floor beside her watching carefully as she taught me the running stitch, the French knot.  I saw her sitting at the kitchen table dealing out a round of 31 to us kids.  One time I “gambled” all my vacation money away and, when I started crying, my grandmother gave it back to me—my mother scolded her for doing so.

I opened the cellar door and showed Rob the place where Grandma kept the large crock that she would fill with iced molasses cookies when she knew we were coming.

And still in the two corners of the dining room were the hutches my father built for her.  I could still picture the treadle sewing machine that sat on the east wall between the two hutches.

No, I just don’t think I can bring myself to burn those notebooks and erase forever the chance for a curious granddaughter (or grandson) to find them.  They may one day wonder about the thoughts and feelings and yearnings of their grandmother.

I hope he or she likes to read.

I hope you are having a great summer.  It feels good to be writing again and not just spending my days knuckle deep in our beautiful earth.



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Thinking Outside the Box — 4 Comments

  1. Just reading about those things brought back memories for me. I might be wrong – but I’m thinking it was on the edge of Canyon de Chelly where that guy was standing, and we bought the paintings from him. With the old one-eyed van. The next morning we met the Sweethearts of Navajo Land, who were dressed to the nines – in velvet, and turquoise. Such great memories. We should tell those stories too so that the kids might know what we did when we weren’t around, and didn’t have any money. I guess I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Thanks for the post.

  2. I almost freaked at even the thought of burning your old notebooks. I was going to tell you to send them to me and I’d send you $5 to go buy one of those firewood bundles at the convenience store. I loved your description of going through your mom’s old house. It’s a unique feeling that happens when we do things like that. Again, good to have you back behind the pen.

  3. Jamie Lee, you are so right about not burning the writings. They are your treasures to pass on. I appreciate the way you take in every day knowing that your time here is precious. Love to be reading your blog again.

  4. Jamie, I totally agree with the posts above! And just recently, in decluttering my house–so many filing cabinets/drawers filled with stuff (throw it away or save it?). Well, I decided to throw some away and keep some. But the most important thing is that I found a big folder full of letters from my Mom and Dad! They hadn’t put the date on each letter; but, happily, the post office stamped the date on each envelope! I had forgotten that I even had these letters. So what a treasure! Yes, like you and Milt and the others have said, the children are/will be so happy to learn about, read about, know more about the older generation! I was/am such a child! And I’ll share these treasures with my children and grandchildren so that they’ll have the opportunity to get to know their grandparents and great-grandparents! Words are wonderful! And all my love to you and Milt always for all you do and all you share!

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