On top of everything else in 2020, I had to rebuild the barn roof. Took the opportunity to clean out the middle bay of the barn itself. That’s the one with a lot of personal stuff, but some things have gone a little wrong.
My Mom lived with me for a few years, back when I was still in Renton and in the process of building out on the farm. When she moved back to St. Louis, she took what she could fit in her car and left me with the rest. It went into the barn until I had the spoons to deal with it.
Moving out here after Donna died meant dealing with a lot of personal stuff. More spoons. She was an artist, so I have some of her drawings, but have been slowly cycling most of them off to the step-daughters to handle for the various grands and eventual great-grands.
This was also the summer we had the wood house restained, inside and out, so I had to take everything down and move it out. Then I got to put it back, but Fabulous Publisher Babe™ and I decided that it didn’t have to go “right back” to what it had been. So we kinda moved into the house again, almost from scratch. Changed things around.
New art on the walls, with a bunch of old art that either went to the daughters (if Donna’s) or hauled off to Value Village to recycle. Books gone away as we moved shelves around.
Then I had to go through the barn stuff, all of which had been there at least six years. My Mother did not pack her boxes particularly well, so they got damp, which meant mildew. It also meant mice climbing in and chewing things. Old books of no particular value, and yucky, so I burned them. Salvaged what I could, but not everything could be saved. Nature of the beast.
Fire is the best way to cleanse some of those things.
As I opened old boxes, I also found a few containing stuff I had either forgotten about, or had been looking for and unable to find because they were back and underneath.
I used to be a prolific letter writer. Found letters from friends dating back to the early and mid 80s. Some of those people I haven’t seen in 30-35 years. Maybe “never heard from them again” after I went off to LA for grad school and didn’t take hardly any connections with me.
You could to that in those days. Just move and eventually the address forwarding expired, so letters were returned undeliverable. Phone numbers used to be geographical, so you had to get a new one when you moved and maybe it was unlisted.
Who knows who might have tried to reach me after 1990 and failed? Other letters from folks I did talk to in the 90s, when I was in California, or later when I left and went back to Kansas, before ending up in Seattle in 1997.
But I had saved a lot of correspondence from old girlfriends. None of it less than 25 years old. Most of them I couldn’t locate today if my life depended on it. There are a number of “And I never saw her again after 1997” in my past.
Those went into the fire.
I don’t have children of my own. I inherited grown step-daughters who are five months to five years younger than me, but they have lives and I’m only kind of tangential to them. They are at least all still friends, twelve years after their mother died. I count that as a win.
So I burned things.
It it liberating, putting things to the torch. All that stuff holds you down, a feather at a time. You don’t appreciate how much it weighs until one day you cast it into the purifying fires and call it done.
“Hey, whatever happened to him?” questions can go unanswered, because only a few strangers from that distant past know how to find me today. And we’re all probably better off not knowing, because then you lose the mystique.
Fire is an agency of chaos, reducing the order of words on paper to flames. That which was because unknown, lost forever. It does not bring me guilt, because I made peace with myself a long time ago, and all I can do for some people is silently apologize and not bother them.
I eventually chose to be happy, but those old letters shined a light on the guy I was 25 or 35 years ago.
But they are not who I am, nor who I choose to be.
They are merely images on a wall.
Pictures of who I used to be.