Memory involves more than souvenirs but souvenirs do trigger memories. But what to do with souvenirs? When does a souvenir become an artefact: evidence? Today I’ve been sorting through some old box files. ‘Get better soon.’ ‘We’re all praying for you.’ ‘You’re on the list at our Church.’
When was that?, I asked myself, as I opened up the folder. And then I remembered. It was when I had a major operation for prostate cancer, nearly 14 years ago. I had forgotten all those cards, and prayers and the great network which had been thinking of me. Perhaps I was too much in shock at the time. But now, as I look at those cards and letters, I think that I can’t throw them out – as I sort out the great accumulation of paper from nearly 60 years of my adult life.
I dip again into the file. Here’s a presentation box which contains a batch of silver wedding cards. Once it must have contained a present. This I will have recovered from my mother’s things when she died ten years ago. One of the cards – presumably once alongside a present – was from my father to my mother. It was sent to her 52 years ago. My father’s handwriting is as fresh and familiar as if it was yesterday.
Shall I throw them out? Or by now are they not clutter but records of individual, precious lives? Maybe I am still here because of those prayers. Maybe my father treasured memories which were private to him and my mother.
During the war, while my father was in the army, my mother wrote to him every day. I can hear the scratch of her ‘relief’ nib as it raced across the paper in our 1940s dining room. All those letters have gone. My dad, perhaps rightly, left very little paper behind him. When he died in 1978 there were only a couple of boxes of papers to sort out. And they were all official. I would like to have read their letters from the war.
So what do I do with all those papers which have survived?
There’s another question here. What would my children want? One daughter, I know, would not want me to throw out even a note to the milkman. The other Mrs Llew and I haven’t seen for 15 years.
My mother was an amateur painter who loved the countryside, moorlands and heather. In old age her pond transformed into a bog, full, in season, of marsh marigolds, the yellow of the cultivated celandines I bought at the garden centre today.
May she rest in peace and, in their time, maybe 50 years in the future, Mrs Llew’s and my children too.