Saturday, October 8, 2011

When is it Safe to Call it Trash?

So, we’re sitting around the kitchen table, all eight of us: three siblings, an additional cousin, two in-laws, one great-niece along with the Chicago matriarch we call mom and aunt. It’s the night before my own family returns home to California, and for the occasion, a cousin and his wife make the four hour round trip to join us.

They have pictures.

After a flurry of hugs and hellos, we settle down to seriously examine the stash. The procedure starts tentatively: Mike, my husband’s cousin, pulls out a folder, unwraps it, draws out a stack of papers and photographs, and hands them, one at a time, to the person sitting to his right. That cousin looks at it, asks questions, then passes it along to the next person.

Somewhere in the early rounds of that process, someone got excited and didn’t want to wait until the picture, or letter, or news clipping, or booklet, got to the sixth or eighth person at the table. Papers start flying in every direction.

Piles start building up in the center of the table. One person wants to save this, another wants to keep that. Lists build up. People claim favorites. Papers are still flying everywhere.

“Did you see this one?” someone asked me. I had missed it. It turns out I had missed quite a few objects in this treasure trove. So the rounds start up again, everyone showing everyone else the pieces that they found the most interesting.

As the dust settled—and believe me, one-hundred-year-old newspaper clippings actually crumble in your hands with no pressure exerted—each of us was able to take a stack of mementos home for our respective families. One by one, each family representative packs up their claimed portion of the Tully and Stevens family heritage.

Saved business card for favorite getaway?
And that left one stack still waiting on the table.

“Oh, just throw that one in the trash,” someone said, indicating my husband’s aunt’s psychic automatic trash can. After all, those were the papers no one had wanted to keep.

I thought of all those things people mentioned, asking me if I had seen them. What if I had missed something else in all that flurry of excitement? Where was the coveted 1849 letter from great-great grandfather Stephen Malloy to his bride, mother of his newborn daughter Katherine, telling her that—surprise—he was in Liverpool, boarding a ship for Boston? What if something like that was in the trash pile?

I couldn’t throw it out. Not knowing, I couldn’t. And yet, it was late; I had to pack for the next day’s flight home. Grabbing a used plastic shopping bag, I stuffed the remaining contents inside, and found a secure spot for the cache in my suitcase, hoping to find more treasure later.

How about those rates?!
But now that I’ve been home, examining every bit of paper, there is no such letter. There is, however, quite a bit of other material that may, with diligent puzzling and lots of research, yield some more hints about my husband’s Irish heritage.

Or not.

In the meantime, I’m convinced that, in every pack rat’s life, there is a trend that can be discerned of likes and dislikes betraying the person’s value scale of what was important in life. It does take a lot of sifting to determine that—but after completing that little exercise, I’m at a lack as to when to consider the rest to be trash. I think of all the things in my own life that, following that trendy mantra to “declutter,” I’ve tossed—only to regret when it was too late to retrieve.

I’m having a hard time taking such a chance on this hundred year old stash. Sharing it, one piece at a time, here online where others may benefit from these findings too, allows me the freedom to choose what to keep and what to let go.


  1. I would never trash any of them. Those are the treasures that future family would love to read. Preserve them if you can and store them away for your childrens children.

  2. I would only throw something away if absolutely no one wanted it - and it was totally unrecognizable.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...