The first one is filled with file folders, some notebooks, several old kitchen calendars, and a smaller box, labeled in my father’s hand: “Sentimental Journey.” None of this stuff is mine. Or at least it wasn’t mine originally. But I’ve carried it around with me, through 26 years and 5 moves, so it’s mine now. Along with the dozen other boxes of similar stuff.

My question is, Are the contents of this box (these boxes) a legacy or a burden? Are they my history and my heritage, or junk and emotional snares? If I comb through every piece in every box, will I be grateful when they offer me insight into my family’s story? Will the insight have been worth the effort? Or is all of it just an obligatory weight I’ve been hauling around, like an albatross?

Inside the “Sentimental Journey” box are a stack of black and white photos and a reel that holds a hundred 35mm slides. Each slide is numbered according to which slot it belongs to on the reel, but there is no identification on any of the slides. Nor is there any on the prints. Oh, Daddy, who are these people in the photos? Where are these woodlands and farms on the slides, these rivers and train tracks, these houses? Whose are these weather-worn headstones in the country graveyards? Should your sentimental journey matter to me?

And Mother, all these wall calendars are inscribed with your social engagements and medical appointments, along with reminders of birthdays and anniversaries. You kept them for decades past their particular years. Is it important to you now that I keep these details of your history? Are they my history too? If I throw them away, along with the class notes from your masters degree, and the children’s papers from the years of fourth-grade classes you taught – is that an insult to the meaning of your life?

The contents of these boxes are fragments of the good stories of the lives of good people. But how many photos of how many life stages of how many people is “enough”? Am I willing to spend the months and years of my own life that would be necessary to sort meticulously through the papers, piece them together, condense them into a narrative more manageable than the dozens of boxes of stuff? Or do I dare to throw it all away? Or shall I, once again, reseal the boxes, shove them back under my bed, and put off the decision for another year or two?

And what might I want from my own children and grandchildren? Will I care if they keep all my files of stuff, the details of the stories of my life? No, I think not.

I would hope that the next generations would know my name, keep one flattering photo, know that I was once here, and that I was somebody worth knowing. Even better, I’d love for them to ask me now, while I’m still here, for a few of the stories that have shaped me. Let me see my history, my legacy, reflected in their faces, illuminated by their interest.

Then after I die, I hope someone will pass along a copy of my published book to a generation or two. Maybe a few excerpts from some of my journals that I’ve illustrated with photos. Maybe a couple of my published poems. If that is done, then I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine with having the rest of my drawers of files (yes, it is junk) disposed of. I’ll be content for those details of my history to just fade away.

Here’s hoping my parents would, on reflection, feel the same way. Because the verdict is in on my original questions: These boxes may not be filled with junk, but they are definitely a burden. So this week I shall bless each box in its turn, then sort the contents quickly and simply with only the recycle center in mind.

Maybe next month I’ll start on the boxes of my own saved stuff.


14 replies
  1. Linda Albert
    Linda Albert says:

    Such a worthwhile subject to discuss, Cynthia. I keep my own past calendars, etc. as I am better planning for the future than remembering dates from the past – though I surely remember salient events, (including those rich and creative times together in GR as part of our Women’s Circle. I hope, when my time is near, I’ll be able to dispose of them before my children are burdened – along with all the unlabeled pictures, etc. What I would love from you is a copy of your book. How can I go about getting it? Sending love, Linda

    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Linda, the book is due to be published the first week in October. It is available now for pre-order on Amazon. Looking forward to my “launch party” the second week of October, and then speaking engagements and book-signings galore after that!

  2. Jerry Millhon
    Jerry Millhon says:

    Three years ago my daughter told me as we were cleaning and throwing clothing, memorabilia and boxes of stuff. She said “Here is what I suggest. Give me one answer to this question as we view all these items …letters, photos etc.
    Yes…no…maybe and those are the piles we will build together. ”
    So Yes went to Good Cheer, no and maybe stayed with me to hold, which gave me the time to consider either. Wonderful time shared and outcome was spot on mentally.

  3. Chris belding
    Chris belding says:

    On the lighter side…

    Box Detox

    She hailed from a village named Culling
    and resided in a smallish shed.
    She often found herself mulling
    about the boxes under her bed.
    She got so tired of stalling –
    it burdened her heart and her head.
    She decided to let go and was willing
    To sort and recycle instead.

    I admire your courage, woman!

  4. Linette
    Linette says:

    Aaah. What a dilemma.
    I oscillate between throw it all and keep everything! Not for posterity, but for me. I left home early and my Mum, not a sentimentalist at all, threw away everything of mine: diaries, certificates, letters.
    She continues this way and told me only last month she had copied out the recipes she liked and thrown away my grandmother’s recipe book, an old book with yellowed pages filled with my grandmother’s beautiful copperplate handwriting and notes.
    She says now she realises it may have been a mistake, prompted, mostly, by the look on my face and my distress!
    I keep everything… just in case.
    Yes, I agree, I am happy it is my burden but I do not want it to become someone else’s.
    Good luck with the recycling.

  5. Sheila Foster
    Sheila Foster says:

    I try again and again to throw away old photos, but when I look into their faces I find it impossible to toss them out. Help!

  6. Michael Trenshaw
    Michael Trenshaw says:

    Glancing through them one more time as you sort them to recycle… If they are meant to catch your eye they will. If you think it would be wirth passing down then do so. Let the memories of others speak to you.

  7. Johnny Palka
    Johnny Palka says:

    Dear Cynthia, this posting has touched a tender spot in my heart. As you know, I spent years reconstructing the story of my family, and in the process I found and deciphered many scraps that could very well have been thrown away by someone at some earlier time. To me, they proved to be treasures. Now I am facing the same question as you are – the scraps meant a great deal to me, but what about the next generation? I don’t have an answer yet. For me it falls in somewhat the same category as where to be buried, or whether simply to have my ashes scattered. There are pluses and minuses to each alternative, but the decision, once made, is irrevocable so I better decide wisely!

  8. Jenny Dainton
    Jenny Dainton says:

    My mother kept all the family memorabilia, birth and death certificates, relevant documents etc and when she retired she contacted all living relatives and asked them to send her their family stories. She then on a typewriter collated them, added photos and thirty two copies of a book entitled ‘Instead of a Stone’ was born. My copy is my most treasured possession. It gives me an insight into several generations of my maternal background. From it recently I was able to enact some of my grandmother’s story in a public performance. I now write bits of my story so that my grandchildren will know something about me and what made me tick.

    Throw away the dross, keep what’s interesting and write what you know about them so their courage and flaws are recorded for future generations.

  9. Mary Faith Cook
    Mary Faith Cook says:

    “Go forth and set the world on fire” St. Ignatius
    “Burn Baby Burn” The Trammps

    I would build a nice Bon fire, have a nice cold beer and then sit and watch the Sparks rise.
    But that’s me.
    If you’re that into recycling well—-you go girl!!
    Mary Faith

  10. Cynthia Trowbridge
    Cynthia Trowbridge says:

    And doesn’t the sense of relief just make you want to celebrate your liberation with a nice glass of?

    I’d be happy to escort you to your first trip to the recycle center.

    with love,
    another cynthia


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