To my surprise, besides all the kids’ envelopes, I found an envelope marked
“Abba and Ima”
For one of my birthdays, I asked my family to get me a dumpster to help me with the sorting and tossing needed for a big move. (Unfortunately, they didn’t.)
I’m someone who abhors clutter and is good at organizing. That said, there are some things I’m unable to part with.
When my children were young, I wrote each of their names on a large manila envelope. Every report card, handmade Mother’s Day card, special note from a teacher, and school project they did went into that envelope. When they were teenagers, the kids enjoyed taking out the envelopes and laughing and reminiscing over some of the things I’d saved. It made for a fun activity on long Shabbos afternoons.
After I got engaged, my mother-in-law gave me an envelope with a few of my husband’s things that she’d saved from his youth. I smiled politely, but privately thought it was silly to hold onto a lock of hair or report card from third grade. I have no idea what happened to that envelope.
So why would I think my own children wanted their envelopes after they married and moved out? They didn’t. I put the envelopes in a box and stored it on the top shelf of my closet. It didn’t take up much room, wasn’t causing clutter; it wasn’t even thought about.
Until I was looking for something else and decided to take down the box. To my surprise, besides all the kids’ envelopes, I found an envelope marked “Abba and Ima.” Inside, I found my husband’s high school diploma, my state license to practice social work, my kindergarten graduation picture, my mother-in-law’s living will.
Somehow none of these had made it into my box of important family papers. Handling each item brought me back to a slice of time relegated to distant memory, and let me remember how I felt and what my life was like at each of those moments.
I opened my oldest son’s envelope. It held the first letter sent by his nursery morah, telling me what a good job he did davening that day. That note had meant so much to me, reinforcing my belief that my little boy was on his way to doing bigger mitzvos. As I held the note in my hand, I thought about all that had happened in the 35-plus years since it had been written. Wistfully, I noted that I had no idea then what challenges a parent faces as his child goes through school.
I took a picture of the letter and sent it to my daughter-in-law, who thought it was very cute, but didn’t sound too interested in getting the whole pile of memorabilia. My other children also passed on having their envelopes delivered to their homes.
So why can’t I, the quintessential “toss it if you haven’t used it” lady, throw all this away? They’re not important documents like birth certificates. Do I leave them on the shelf and one day, hopefully far in the future, my children will discover them and show them to their own (by then grown) children?
Or do I subscribe to my own credo of streamlining and throw them all away without another thought?
But even if my children don’t want the contents of these envelopes, tossing them in the garbage feels like throwing away my memories of them as youngsters.
Two of my daughters tell me they would like to see their envelopes. It’s a start. Before they can change their minds, I take down their envelopes and put them aside. I shelve the box with the rest of the envelopes back on the top of the closet.
Someday, I know, they will end up in the garbage. But for now, I tell myself, they are not clutter; they are memories waiting to be discovered.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 678)
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