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If I weren’t so tired, I might have a bit of a cry, but that would take too much energy. Drank too much wine last night during dinner with Auntie Do, and didn’t sleep much. It’s an extremely windy day in Ottawa – I went to get groceries and was standing still at one point with my legs moving, pushing against the wind, surrounded by mountains of dirty snow. What a climate. Toronto is Florida in comparison.

An amazing amount was accomplished today, however. My friend David came to take away the sheet music – string quartets, piano music, songbooks that were my British grandfather’s, a choirmaster and organist for the village church. Happiness and pain to see it all disappear, 7 boxes plus recorders, music stands and a box of Bach cantata CD’s. The language of string quartets – of music not just listened to but played – was a language my parents spoke fluently with each other, that their children did not speak. How I regret that lack in my life, as my mother predicted I would when I quit piano lessons at 13. David will donate the stuff to a childrens’ orchestra and to CAMMAC, the Canadian Amateur Musicians Association, at whose summer camp my parents spent many happy summers.

And books – today, about 14 boxes of books went to Goodwill, and more mountains of stuff down to the condo recycling table, or into the bins.

Today I found all the letters and telegrams my mother received when I was born in 1950, and when my father died in 1988; I found all the airlines tickets she’d used in decades; all my father’s scientific publications and daytimers for the last 20 years of his life; every letter ever sent to my mother, including ones from her lovers over the years, from the 40’s through her marriage. I found all her own writings, essays from her school years, from the London School of Economics that she went to in 1957, her French notes from her time at the Alliance Francaise in 1964. My father’s notes on wine, his own tiny diaries, and my British grandfather’s exhaustive diaries, which detailed every single day of his life. He kept his daily affairs in one kind of little book – broken down into M, A, and E, which wasn’t hard to realize meant morning, afternoon and evening – plus other little books with lists of everything he spent and every penny that came in, and every letter he wrote and received and what was in it. Now I know where I got it from, the exhaustive chronicling of life.

As I looked through before discarding, I found myself in there – in a letter from my grandmother to my mother about a conversation with me – veiled references to my impulsiveness and lack of good sense, at 26.  In my grandfather’s diary, August 1965, my cousin Francie and I both visiting London, going to see “Help!” at the Hammersmith Cinema. Feb. 1979, after my mother had moved my grandparents from London to Ottawa – “A: Beth dropped in – without warning!” That crazy girl. There are boxes of photos and slides and a whole bookshelf of photo albums. I am drowning in my family’s past.

But I’m going to spend the evening sorting what I can – more files, filling those recycling bags. It’s brutal, this process. It’s like throwing lives away – my mother’s, her parents’, my father’s. And in the process, my own life begins to seem futile. One day before long, my own children will be doing exactly the same thing – my own decades of diaries, OUT, my books and music, all the stuff from this place I’ll be bringing back to Toronto – out. Seeing the cycle of lives so clearly, as I have today, part of me wants to ask, what’s the point? Your busy, self-important life just leads to the moment when you are no longer there, when all your work, your collections, your great loves, your letters and travels and reading – meaningless. Vanished. And the residue and souvenirs, the chronicles, simply a burden on those you’ve left behind.

There is sadness today. Not a surprise.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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