Yesterday after church, my family gathered for dinner at my parents’ house, where my mother handed me a brown grocery sack and declared, “I’ve been cleaning. Here’s your life. Take it home.” Inside, I found a wealth of mementos: the plastic “2″ off my birthday cake, report cards dating back to preschool, school projects, certificates of merit and citizenship, greeting cards, pictures I drew for my parents, swimming lesson reports, records of vaccinations, old track photos, a napkin from a birthday party, my graduation announcements, the program for my wedding. It was, indeed, my life in a bag.
Not being the sentimental sort, I’ve already pitched most of it. But I thumbed through the lot last night, and I uncovered three real treasures. First, I found my young author’s book from the second grade. Now that I truly am an author (almost), how fun it is to look back and see how very far I’ve come! And what an amazing visual it will be to share with kids on classroom visits. Similarly, I also found a picture book I wrote and illustrated in seventh grade. I have carefully cut the pages apart, scanned them, and preserved both books in laminate. The greatest treasure, however, is a card I have never seen before, dated eight days after my birth, from a great grandmother I never knew. In an unsteady script, it reads:
“You dear little great grand daughter. Welcome to the tribe and may it be a happy journey through the years as I am about to the end of the journey and trust your life will more than fill in the empty space I am making. With Jesus Christ as your guide, you sure will succeed. Your great grandma, Florence, May 10 – 73
I will be 94 on July 14 -73. God bless all your (unreadable, ventures? endeavors?).”
What a pearl I have found! What power in the written word! Thirty-six years after it was written, the love and faith and emotion bound up in that short note was finally received, and I confess, it brought tears to my eyes and stirred my imagination. Who was my grandmother, I wonder? I’ve never given her more than a passing thought. Suddenly, I wish I’d known her. What was she like? What was her story? Much of it is already lost to time with the passing of my grandfather, her son, but my father is still living. For now, I must content myself with his secondhand memories, but someday in heaven, if she doesn’t come find me first, I’m going to look that sweet lady up.
I have a “brown sack” started for each of my own children, with locks of hair, photos, report cards, and all the rest. Most of it will probably be thrown out with the trash in a few decades. But I hope my words – my stories and letters, my faith and my love – will pass on. Perhaps the ones that come after me will dig through the clutter and find a few treasures of their own.
Originally posted Nov. 2009.