The Ephemera
Of My Life

Dateline: 21 July 2014

The recent death of my mother-in-law has led me to confront some of my past, and prepare for the future. 

First, I asked the undertaker who the person is that I should contact about buying a final resting place for Marlene and I at the local cemetery. It has been on my mind for some time to do this. I got the name and will follow up.

Marlene's parents had a place and a stone all set, years ahead of time, for their certain departure. Most of the old-timers were good about taking care of such things. But the undertaker told me that very few people nowadays buy a plot for themselves.

As far as "confronting the past" goes, I decided to winnow away the ephemera of my life. Ephemera is written or printed memorabilia. For three days, as I've had time, I've focused on sorting through three large boxes of old papers, photos, and such as that. My intent was to cut it down to a single, relatively small box of pertinent memories. I succeeded in reducing the mass of matter to less than 1/4 it's original size. The closed and open box pictured above and below show the results of my winnowing. 

Pictures were selected, sorted, and grouped into envelopes. I wrote on the back of every picture that didn't already have information on it. I put various categories of papers into separate files. What remains will be passed onto our children when Marlene and I are gone. They won't have to sort through boxes and boxes of papers that mean nothing to them.

What did I toss? Well, I threw out three copies of the following magazine…

My children will not need or want three copies of an old magazine with me on the cover. So I tore the front cover off one, removed the pages with my article, stapled them together, and put it in the box. Good enough.

Sidenote: I also threw out the contract for that 1998 article. The magazine took care of my expenses to fly out to Minnesota and stay a couple days, and they paid me $1,300. 

I did the same with my first article for Fine Homebuilding magazine back in 1992. I also saved the acceptance letter I got from the editor for that article. 

After years of doing physical work to make money, it was a whole new experience to get money for just putting words on paper. That magazine article was a turning point in my life. I would write several more articles before writing three books for Fine Homebuilding. It was an exhilarating experience. 

Even more amazing (to me) was when three different magazines contacted me asking if I would be interested in interviewing for a job as an editor (I declined all three).

Some examples of things I threw out

I decided that I did not need to save every cancelled check I wrote from 1976 to 1980, though I did give a last look through them. I had forgotten that I paid my parents $30 a month for rent in the years I lived at home after high school. And there was the check in 1976 to Albert Wayne for $200, which was for my first car (my father made me return the car the next day). Then, two years later, there was the check for the first car I bought and kept ($2,237.50 to Ames Chevrolet).

My grade school artwork was all tossed, as were all my report cards and Cub Scout/Boy Scout paperwork (except for two small membership cards). I kept a few homemade cards and notes I gave to my parents as a little boy. 

I wrote quite a few letters-to-the-editor of local newspapers back in the mid to late 1980s and kept a single copy of each, along with a single copy of a weekly home improvement column I volunteered to write for a local paper.   

I threw out maps, magazines, brochures, church bulletins, duplicate pictures, fuzzy pictures, and pictures I didn't like. I threw out all greeting cards with just a signature. I evaluated all letters and kept only those with pertinent information, or insightful sentiments.

I kept a folder of selected examples of my children's earliest artwork. I saved all genealogical paperwork passed on to me. I kept Josephine Jordan's Diaries (of course), as well as some of my mother's journal writings, and my own. I saved the amortization paper from Jay Myers, my father-in-law, for the $10,000 loan he gave Marlene and I to build our home back in 1983. Jay noted each payment on the paper and that it had been paid in full. I attached a note explaining to my heirs what it was all about.

And so on. You get the idea. It's done, and I feel good about it. 

Now I can die. :-)

Oh, wait, I still need to get the cemetery plot.

And Marlene needs to do her own winnowing. She has a lot more boxes of ephemera than I did.


SharonR said...

Well done!
My theory on buying burial plots on the decline - marriages are fickle at best. Usually, people make these decisions with their loved one. But those change with the wind anymore. Most of us may end up being buried alone or near our parents, and that's too much to think about by yourself. Just a guess.

Rozy Lass said...

Have you written your life story? All that you threw out sounds pertinent to it. But that is your choice. When I'm going through stuff I think "What would I like to have had from my grandmother?" She died when I was 11 so I never got to ask her questions about her life and raising her 15 children. She left almost nothing in the way of paperwork so I know too little about her and her life. Just a thought.

Lynn said...

We were just given an elderly friend's entire library and papers -- large file cabinets and boxes full of papers. He was supposed to have his apartment cleaned out by 8/1, so we took what we could and had to leave the rest. He has no family to speak of, so we were given what he held most dear. This has caused me to take a hard look at all the memorabilia I've collected over the years, and know it's time to do a major weeding out. This will have to be done quickly, since my mom has decided to leave the house our family moved into almost 60 years ago. That means dealing with a lot more stuff. Thanks for the encouragement to do what we need to do.

Jonathan Sanders said...

The picture of your box's contents that included cassette tapes made me laugh (at myself).

In 1999, my family made a time capsule to be opened 10 years later. We included our thoughts about what the world might be like, a current newspaper, and I used the kids' Fisher-Price cassette recorder to interview each person about their thoughts of today or the future.

When 2009 came around and we opened the container, the one thing no one thought to predict was that by 2009 we would not even own a working cassette player with which to listen to our recording...

Sheila said...

Since my sweetheart passed away last July I have been thinking about "Making Final Plans" too, and it's not easy. One good thing is, My parents purchased several plots and they were for their children if they wanted them. So when my husband died I got one of those plots, and I will be using it too, when the times comes.
As far as ephemera goes. I don't want to toss out any of it. NONE of it, and I'm not going to.
I actually hid money in liners of things, like clothes, in books, taped to furniture bottoms, (all in secure storage) and told my children about it, just so they will have to look through everything I own when I die.
Here is why. I have been collecting and organizing a way of life that will some day, if needed, give my children a way to be self sufficient. I have purchased 150 year old books so that they can learn how to use green manure, plant just about every veggie on earth, and even how to build a house, dig a well, solar information, you get the picture.
I have 2 pieces of property that I will soon make into 3 properties, and leave them to each of my children, I will need 1 more before I die. 4 all together. I work on those properties all the time and hope it will help them in the future.
I will have everything set up so that it will be impossible for them to sell the property, and after them, my grandchildren get it all.
I've spent my entire life caring for my family, however they know little about being self sufficient, and less about growing anything. I have photos, videos, files, folders, and anything they need to live free from being a slave to the system.
I could go on and on, but I won't, and I'm not leaving this world until this goal is finished. No, I can't make them live this, but I bet if things get bad enough, they will start reading and digging, and I want that to last, a very, very long time. Who doesn't want to find a nice $20.00 bill inside the seat of the couch? or one inside the curtain hem in my bedroom, or...........