Rethinking souvenirs

I am looking at the last few boxes to tackle, up in the attic. These are the difficult ones.

The clear out has been going well. Lots of paring down to what we need – and for those things where it’s harder to let go of them, at least some thinning of what we hold on to.

A lot of it is paper. Easy enough to deal with.

But some of it is special paper.

It’s the paper of an airline ticket, with your name on. With a significant date and destination.

It’s the entry stub for an amazing art gallery. The leaflet reminding you of a special excursion you took while on holiday.

You may well have the photos. You have the memories too, some clearer than others, but that’s OK. You may have others who were there, to swap stories with.

Do you need the paper proof too?

I find this one difficult. Various different parts of me have an opinion on the importance of the paper, and all of them are ganging up on me, telling me to keep it.

The linguist: remembering school teachers’ injunctions to collect real material while abroad, learn from it.

The communicator: appreciating the designs, the choice of what to say and what not.

The historian: looking at the significance of what we learn from documents; what’s intentional, what you read between the lines.

The aspects of our all so recent culture where you had to have a ticket for a flight – not a printout, not an email on a phone. Where countries you visited still had separate currencies.

A food label where it was typical to have the information in just one language, rather than the many that often grace our packaging these days.

There are souvenirs because you used to have to go to a place to see these things; these bits and pieces of daily life. A few might crop up in textbooks; maybe even in reference books.

But now I can go online and hunt up the packaging design for a potentially tooth-rotting childhood drink – or see photos of a far-off church I visited one time. All without getting up. (But you might have to scroll down to see the pictures.)

I don’t have to hold the paper to prove to you what life is like there – I can just open a laptop and show you. That is partly exciting, and partly unsettling.

I can’t open a box, and take out a horde of ancient coins, and let you handle them. There are museums for that, and they look after things well, too.

But I can pass you real items, parts of the past, parts of my past. I can tell you what was happening that day.

And you will learn some things from handling that leaflet, that piece of paper, that you cannot learn through a glass case, or on a screen.

Maybe the solution is going back to scrapbooks of some kind. I don’t just want the items on their own; I want to include the story that goes with them.

So maybe some day, someone who knows me can hold the whole thing in their hands. As a gift. As a passing on of life, of story.

That partly sounds self-important. It isn’t meant to be.

It is the pieces of life that I would like to know about for the generations before me; the ones that feel everyday and ordinary, but that still show the passage of time and events.

I have things that belong to my grandparents; in a few cases, great-grandparents. But I don’t necessarily have the stories that go with them. I would really like both.

That will take time. I want to avoid feeling guilt for the process taking time – I also want to avoid putting it off because it takes time.

I want to find a level of doing this that doesn’t mean I’m hoarding every last bus ticket to tell my story. But maybe I can find a balance.

And just as importantly, a place to house all these memory-making items while I work out how to do it.

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