Memory has its own story to tell. ~Tobias Wolf
There comes a point in the decluttering process when you have to deal with the hard stuff: the large boxes of family photos and letters.
I've skimmed off the low-hanging fruit--the odd Christmas cards from people I've never heard of, the duplicate photos.
And now I'm left with reading the letters, from the 1920s through the 1940s. The years of recovery from WWI, economic depression, and a new war. In the years before long-distance telephone use was common, my grandmother and great aunt and great uncles wrote to my great grandmother Agnes in La Conner, La Conner, Washington, a tiny town north of Seattle on the edge of Puget Sound.
A few weeks ago I wrote about not wanting to hang onto a "museum to grief." Yet these mementos seem to lead there--the process of looking backwards, knowing how things turned out, can overwhelm. As David Whyte wrote in Consolations: "There is almost no path a human being can follow that does not lead to heartbreak."
My great aunt Esther had begun writing the family story before Alzheimer's took over: five children of Swedish immigrants and how the American experience affected their lives. I think she, too, was overwhelmed by sadness as the story unfolded on her pages: tales of alcoholism, parental rage, early deaths, mysteries (great uncle George hospitalized for an unspeakable breakdown during the Boxer Rebellion in Beijing, for example). Hints of world affairs: great uncle Norman hired to protect the bridges near town after Pearl Harbor, the warden giving notice that some light was showing at the edge of the blackout curtains, racial tensions in the army base in Louisiana.
Here is my grandmother in 1924. A beautiful, talented young woman who died of alcoholism at age 74, bitter and alone.
Closing the flaps on the boxes does not quiet the voices, but I don't know what to do with them, either.
In the meantime, I thought you all would like this sweater: