“Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”
~Kevin Arnold, “The Wonder Years”
I have a box. Actually, it’s a big blue plastic tub. It’s very plain, but this tub holds a most important position in my home. It is a “keeper of memories” and within it lies my history—a lifetime in pictures, letters, newspaper clippings and cards. I can’t tell you how many times I have pulled the big plastic blue tub out of my laundry room closet intending to organize the pictures, cards, letters, and clippings. Each time I pull out this tub o’ memories, I spend hours looking through the piles of memorabilia, reading and re-reading the contents as if I had never read them before. Looking at the pictures and connecting the dots of then and now. The contents never get organized and the box is always returned to the laundry room closet, where it will remain until the next time I feel the need to “organize,” reminisce and reflect.
These scraps of memories were not ones I had kept over the years, but rather were from someone else’s perspective. I think that is what makes discovering and rediscovering the items such a blessing and heartwarming experience. The big blue plastic tub came to me several years ago when Nana, the keeper of the memories, passed away. Nana was my last remaining grandparent, my father’s mother. She was special in many ways, and her love of family is so apparent in the odds and ends which now reside in my special tub. Since my father’s death preceded both of his parents, many artifacts of his life were kept in a drawer in my grandmother’s house. I remember shortly after he died, I went into the closet where the pictures were kept and rummaged through them, picking out the ones I wanted. I showed them to Nana and she matter-of-factly stated that those were her pictures and now was not the time for me to take them. I was heartbroken, but later realized that was all she had left of her “Charlie.”
When you lose a loved one as suddenly as I lost my Dad, you tend to cling to whatever you can find that makes you feel close to that person. My son Christopher was 2-1/2 and I was 7 and ½ months pregnant with Charles when “Boompa” died. I have spent my life trying to share stories and pictures and details with the hope of creating an illustration of their grandfather, knowing that I could never truly introduce them to the man he was. That was until the big blue plastic tub came to our house. Not only can I share pictures and written documentation about Dad, but I can also share the many letters of correspondence I wrote to my grandparents during my “growing up” years. My heart melted when I realized my Nana had saved them all. How thankful I am that my mother always encouraged me to write letters, words which have now become a rich source of history and laughter when shared with my boys.
Once you start digging deep within the tub, you will find pages from a tattered old scrapbook, which is no longer bound together. Pictures are securely glued to each page, and on many pages Nana has written comments or information out to the side of the pictures. On Sept. 8, 1941, she writes, “Charlie’s first day of school. He is called Charles at school. Mrs. Glascock is his teacher.” Above that is a picture of my Dad and one of his friends on their first day of school. There are two more entries on that page: Jan. 22, 1942- “Charlie got his first little paddling when in line.” April 8, 1942- “Charlie got up the nerve to kiss Jeanette Knopp right in the school room. His first kiss to a girl.” Mixed among the scrapbook pages I found his certificate of Baptism dated May 14, 1944. What a wonderful treasure to have, knowing on that date my Dad was baptized after asking Jesus to come into his heart. There are honor roll certificates, old report cards and a telegram from Western Union from my grandfather that announced my dad's birth stating, ""Big boy arrived at one fifteen. Everything is fine."
Scattered among the pictures and certificates is the program for my Dad’s Commencement Exercises from A&M. Graduates in 1957 totaled just over 1,000, compared to the 7500 graduates in only the May ceremonies in 2012, and over 8700 in 2015. There is a newspaper clipping of my Mom and Dad’s wedding, and many articles from “The Daily Sentinel.” As a professor of Economics, my Dad was always asked to speak to the Lions Club at the end of every year, giving the economic outlook for the upcoming year. “1969 should be a good year as a whole but don’t expect any miracles,” Dr. Charles W. Brown, head of the economics department at Stephen F. Austin State College, said at the luncheon meeting Monday of the Noon Lions Club. In 1970 he said, “Never have so many been so confused about so much. Not since the closing year of WWII have we seen such confusion about the future course of our economy.” Dr. Brown, in a forecast of the 1970 economy, did not paint a bright picture at all and said even last year’s forecasts didn’t turn out too well. He added, “Our crystal balls haven’t improved much since then.” In December of 1983 he said, “Economists are generally bullish about 1984” but cautioned that predictions are based on normal patterns and probabilities. “I am constantly amazed at the resilience of the U.S. economy. It is the best to be found anywhere, and I hope we never take it for granted.” I sure wonder what he would think about our economic situation today…
Also in the box, is a Bible my Dad gave Nana for Christmas in 1955, when he was in college. Nana always wrote in her Bible, underlining scriptures and writing comments.
On the back of this page, was a blank page and scattered among the scripture references she had documented is this: “Mylanta for diarrhea” and it’s circled. Next to that, is this address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. Wonder if she ever wrote the President? On the back page of the Bible, she has written “Tegrin medicated shampoo.” There are also many names of cleaning products written in the margins, as well. When Nana died, she had not been able to attend church for several years due to her failing health. There was a new preacher, and he really didn’t know her. The family gave him her Bible (a different one from the one my Dad gave her). He was looking for passages she had underlined so he could try to get to know her that way. During the service, he talked about how most people don’t write in their Bible, let alone on the blank pages in the front, but these pages in Nana’s Bible were filled completely up. The preacher started sharing some of the things she’d written, such as her favorite verses. She had also written her favorite quotes. After reading several, he paused and said, “Like the sands through the hour glass, so are the Days of our Lives.” Yes, Nana did love to watch her stories!
In Nana’s last years, she didn’t speak much and was basically immobile. One of the last times I saw her, before she was this way, she asked, “Where’s Charlie?” I don’t even remember how that question was answered, but her words pierced my heart. I often think of that question and how I would answer it if she had asked me. He's in his truck, driving me to school at Raguet Elementary, never minding the fact I would kiss him goodbye at the stop sign on the corner of East Austin and Raguet, several blocks away from the school, hoping no one would see me.
Where is my Dad? He’s walking me down the aisle at my wedding, after practicing all week on which word to put the emphasis on when he answered the question, “Who gives this woman to this man?” “Her mother and I.” The emphasis was on the word mother. Whenever I smell popcorn, he’s there with me, reminding me of the time that Christopher choked on popcorn when a little friend gave him some when he was two. When I shared this with my Dad, he told me a couple of weeks later that “eating popcorn just wasn’t the same after that.” He’s at every A&M football game, when we are all shaking our heads, wondering what the heck is going on, and when my husband says, "Wonder what your Dad would think about that?" I’m sure he’s in Heaven complaining with the other Old Ags, and routinely saying, “Wait until next year."
He’s the strength I see in my mother, a person who amazes me with her gracious attitude, giving spirit and loving kindness. She’s forged ahead without him, though he remains by her side and forever in her heart. He is in so many things about my brother, who looks more and more like him as each day passes. He’s in my kids’ smiles, in their faces, in their laughter.
He’s in my big blue plastic tub of memories in my laundry room closet. Fortunately, I choose not to keep him there. He’s with me every day, in all I do, giving me love and support and gratitude for a life so well lived that it goes on, even after 25 years. He’s my Dad, and his address may be in Heaven, but he lives in my heart. "I love and miss you, Dad. Gig’em, and wait until next year.”