My Mother’s Papers

Recently, my 12 year old daughter mentioned to me how she loved the sound of the paper in her class notebook. Not the new crisp and pristine sheets, but the ones filled with her notes, class assignments, scribbles, and names of boys she thinks are cute. She said to me, “I love the sound it makes when I turn the page.” It surprised me that she noticed the mere weight of ink gave them a different sound and tone. An interesting observation from a digitally savvy 12 year old!

Being the daughter of a woman who could not bear to throw anything away, I grew up surrounded by paper. Not the gorgeous kind, rather, bits and pieces of previously used items. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother doodling while she spoke on the phone….drawing curvy images from the likes of fashion magazines to elaborate scribbles that filled the backs of envelopes, shopping lists, and whatever scrap of paper that happened to be sitting close by.

In more recent years, whenever I spoke to my mother on the phone, after the lengthy discussion about her fabulous grandchildren, there was always some reference to her task at hand, the organizing of her “Papers”. In my naïve estimation of my mother’s organizing skills, I always assumed that she was trying to sort out her junk mail from her bills that were always wedged between her kitchen phone and her personal phone book, next to her prized discount coupons and the many requests for donations that she actually read and responded to, if in some small way. We begged and prodded that she immediately toss the junk mail as it arrived, thinking we were giving her great daughterly advice.

When our mother passed away this past fall, one month shy of her 81st birthday, we began the task of emptying the home we grew up in. We found my mothers “Papers” waiting for us like a warm embrace, as the “Papers” that my mother had been so obsessed with organizing, were actually time traveled treasures from a distant past.

They were the correspondences between my grandfather and his family that he had left behind in the Ukraine at the tender age of 16; written long before the war that would wipe them out. They were elegantly penned condolence letters to my grandmother on the passing of my grandfather. They were the youthful love letters from my father to my mother while he was away on duty, during World War II.

Hundreds of well written thank you notes, cards and holiday newsletters from the east coast family and neighbors who remained in touch. Not to mention, my uncle’s graduation announcement from medical school and the multiple congratulatory letters from the birth of my sisters and me. Even our “hand made” Birthday, Mothers Day and Fathers Day cards, replete with stick figured drawings from early childhood survived. Most of these items were written by hand, in the unique penmanship of each writer. Her paper collection documents her life and the lives of the senders. A testament to a life well-lived; a life well-loved.

It will take us quite a bit of time to get through this “treasure trove”, as there are decades worth in her closets, stored in boxes and bags and drawers throughout her home… hoards of well crafted sentences from those who had no fear of a blank sheet of paper, sitting waiting for us to discover. Still, it feels good to be amongst her things and to immerse ourselves in our collective history.  I realize that I, too, am taken with the sound of paper.

“The faintest ink is greater than the strongest memory”…Chinese Proverb

I plan to leave some papers of my own.

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  1. Posted February 3, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I love this post Deborah. I was sad to hear last year of your mom’s passing but it warms my heart now that out of this loss you found such a treasure. Everyone should be so lucky.

    Hoping to see you this year at the NSS…missed you last year!
    Best Wishes, Lisa @ Bella Carta Studio

  2. Posted February 3, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I love this post. It is almost like you have a window into my life. Sorry to hear about the passing of your mother. Such a beautiful post.

  3. Posted February 3, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful post. I had a very similar experience with my Grandmother, who wrote me at least once a week no matter where she was. I love re-reading her letters now that she is gone, and I have great memories of writing her back, no matter where I was. I will definitely make it a point to leave my children some “Papers.” I’m glad Mark suggested I check the Blog!

  4. Justine Amodeo
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    I love the sound, and smell, of paper, and typed and handwritten letters, too. Which is why I will NEVER buy a Kindle.

  5. Richard Reiser
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    What a treasure trove you have! And I love you all the more for recognizing
    (so beautifully) its value. I only wish I had more of of my own mother’s paper jewels.
    But she was a neatnik.

  6. Sandy Levine
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    What a treasure trove you have found. I envy you and the valuable jewels that are yours now.

  7. Posted February 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Deborah, this is incredible! Your mother would be so proud of you!
    I know you must miss her so much.

    Maybe our moms are dancing together!
    Thank you for sharing this blog.

  8. Posted February 3, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I can be objective and subjective on your writing, Deborah. Great idea; original and well written.

  9. Stacy Bomhof
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Again, Deborah, Thank You for sharing. I can only imagine how your mom would feel knowing that you are taking such good care of, and appreciating her precious scribbles. It brings a whole new meaning to ‘a place for everything’ but not necessarily everything in it’s place…

  10. Jill
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Love this post. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Steve Sloan
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I love the way you write….it is warm and intimate and inclusive. Thank you so much for sharing these personal peeks into your lives.

  12. Nancy Lander
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Deborah, What an astounding tribute your mom left you, and you now have to keep and give to your children.

  13. helen
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    what a lovely map of your Mom’s life. all the pieces remind me of a quilt I made from my Father-in-law’s shirts.

  14. melisa
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    This is wonderful. . .

  15. Mark Grosher
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Your words keep the memories alive. Reading them, I felt as though your Mom was still here. She would be very proud of what you had to say. What a wonderful use of a blog.

  16. Denise Wheeler
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother, and so poignantly told. I now want to compile a “treasure trove” for my boys to sift through one day.

  17. Posted February 4, 2010 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    Dear Deborah,
    I’ve loved your post, it’s so right and sensitive, these little things of life are so important, and every year when I have to send my new year greetings to my family elders and parent’s friends, I do it on paper, real paper and hand writting because I know that these cards will make their day and they will keep them carefully. best wishes.

  18. Michael Dreizen
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I almost wish I was putting a pen to paper to say all this… it does carry so much more of the soul of the writer then we ever realize at the time. When my father, (who incidentally used to have other doctors tell him he had bad handwriting), was on the phone, he invariably had a pen in his hand and no matter what scrap of paper was around, a prescription pad, a note pad, perhaps a piece of mail, the edge of a magazine or newspaper, he would scribble a few lines which would eventually turn into a few more overlapping lines, and more lines, until the whole of the empty area of whatever scrap he was doodling on became covered in this very geometric/linear scribble. I find myself doing the same sometimes as well, but it is, as with your mom, a very vivid memory of something he did to bide his time as he chatted away on the phone.

  19. Eve Topalian
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I cried, again. How lucky we were to be part of those papers. Your essay is beautifully written. I know you will laugh and cry as you go through those treasure.

  20. Aina McBean
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful. I am going to try to throw away less from now on so I can leave more memories for my children. Thanks Deborah.

  21. Julie Blinston
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful post. How lovely to have all of those papers left behind for future generations to enjoy. My grandmother, who has full blown alzheimers now, had a similar collection or papers. Hers were largely type written and kept in little journals chronicling everything from daily life to my grandparents many trailer trips over the years. She brought her type writer when they travelled or kept it on her desk at home. She also continued to send handwritten letters and notes even after email came along. I have a collection of those notes and letters in a special box that I look forward to sharing with my kids in the future.

  22. Posted February 4, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    The Chinese Proverb reminds me of a Texas proverb I am fond of: “Nothin’ reads like writin’.”

  23. Lynn
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful memory.

  24. Merrie Napolitano
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    As I read this, I found long lost memories of my mother sitting on the phone doodling on a piece of paper, coming back to me. The sound of notebook paper as it was turned after being filled with an aspiring novel I was going to have published with my best friend at 13. The desk in my grandmothers home cover completely with correspondence she sends in her perfect handwriting. The first pristine page of a writing journal waiting for it’s journey to begin.

    I grew up loving paper and as I read this blog it came back to me just how much. In today’s technological society it’s easy to forget the ‘papers of our lives’. I am vowing to keep more, and to treasure these little jewels because time is so fleeting. Thank you for the lovely memories you shared.

  25. Julie
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful post – would love to see some of the letters.

  26. Posted February 4, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    What a heartwarming share and brilliant testimonial to power of the written word. I wish my blog post had linked to yours because it is an example of what I wished for in closing:

    “In closing, I’ll offer a reminder: ‘Life is short’ and encourage everyone to write often and kiss passionately. And may both expressions of sentiment leave lasting impressions on the people you love.”

  27. Skip Mrozinski
    Posted February 5, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    How timely to read your essay. Over the past years, I have placed in an old medical bag in the living room memories of the past year, maybe two. When full, I box, lable and store them in the garage. Visitors and friends comment, didn’t Andy Warhol do that, too. Warhol I’m not but those memories are about to be opened. Two evenings ago, I had dinner with my extended family. The children are married and in their 40′s and are about to receive their handmade cards, filled with good wishes, praises and love for Christmas. I’d love to see their faces that morning.

    Thanks for the memories…

  28. Manfred Waffender
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I could not but help to see our kids in thirty or forty years gathered around memory sticks, hard drives and discs…without any hardware to open them.

  29. Posted March 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I was just re-reading the many comments left for me on this post, and in my personal in box. ..Thank you to all for such kind words, your own sweet memories and lovely sentiments. I think my Mother would have been surprised to know that what she left behind (a bit apologetically, for fear it would overwhelm us) was really the perfect exercise in closure. Another opportunity to look back from whence we came….and who we came from. That perfect final chapter of her Life’s Book. She is missed every day, yet there are so many places to look for her in what she left behind.

    I made a promise to myself to write more and mail more this year…. I find it takes great discipline, but it seems that the communications that deserve the slowest form of delivery are much more obvious to me now. I invite you to do the same….spread a little bit of yourself around….your impact on the people in your life is far greater than you’ll ever know.

    deborah signature

  30. Esty La Hive
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    This is the first Blog I have ever read and I was really touched by the pictures and your beautiful expression of how much your mother’s collection of memories affected you. I hope my children will be as pleased when they are confronted with my collection. Thank you for sharing.

  31. Posted April 17, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful post … and wonderful memories. We love old paper … and you have given us another reason to love it even more.

  32. Posted October 12, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    So sweet & touching. Those papers are a trail of a beautiful life well-lived!!

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  1. By lovely links: vol. 2 « Studio LK on February 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    [...] family should have “papers” like this. [...]

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