The shock – that this person came out of my body! Today my daughter came over to help me organize my office, which is buried under snowdrifts, an avalanche of paper, especially now that I’m digging into my mother’s bulging bags of letters. Help! I cried to Anna. For example, I said, showing her an adorable letter I wrote to my father when I was just six and my parents were separated, what should I do with this?
Throw it out, she said.
I recoiled as if she’d hit me. But it’s adorable! I was 6! It’s to my dad!
How many letters do you need to remind you that you loved your father and were a good writer at six? she answered calmly.
Every single one! I answered internally but not out loud.
But she’s right. Because, as she so sweetly pointed out, if I don’t throw it out, someone else will, and we both know who that person will be.
My mother was a hoarder – not pathological, just a “born poor lived through the war” hoarder. I had to get rid of her decades’ worth of Bon Appetit magazines and her lifetime collection of knee-hi stockings among many other things, including a phenomenal pile of paper and plastic bags, and let’s please not mention her freezer. She kept almost every letter ever written to her, especially from her lovers – the ones before Dad, then Dad, then the one in 1956 who wrote her nearly every day for years, it seems (care of a romantic family friend sympathetic to the cause), and the one in 1971, when I was 21 – they’re all there. Mum knew who I am, a delver, an investigator, a family chronicler, and she knew I’d find them and read them, as I am in fact doing now. That eventually, perhaps, I’d tell the story.
But my own daughter is the opposite. She’s busy living her busy life with no interest in delving into the past, in the mystery of who those people with her genes were back then. She honours family – she has read my Jewish Shakespeare book though not the others or the articles and certainly not this blog – but she’s not interested in reams of old paper, in the letter I wrote to Dad when I was six, what that says about me, about him, about our life then.
So my job now is to deal with it all and then get rid of it so she doesn’t have to.
She also enjoys mainstream films I wouldn’t go near, like superhero movies, and TV shows too; she likes soft drinks and junk food and gooey desserts, and she is the most sensible, wise, grounded person I know. I turn to her often now for advice on simple matters. She listens, she advises – as I do, occasionally, for her. She never forgets that I’m her mother, as my own mother, anxious to tell me her secrets, did to me; there are no secrets here. And despite the fact that she wants me to throw out precious letters and sometimes drinks Coca-cola, I adore her.
She told me what’s going on in her sons’ school because of Ford’s cuts to education – for example, there is now one educational assistant in a school of 700 children, many of them recent immigrants with poor or no English language skills. A nightmare which will only get worse. The strikes will start soon.
Annals of modern life department: at the playground on the weekend, as Eli played, I listened to a bunch of pre-adolescent girls who’d draped themselves over the climbing apparatus. And then one howled, “Olivia, PLEASE don’t post that!” Olivia must have taken an unflattering photo. And I realized the horror for kids of this social media age – your friends are there with their phones ALL THE TIME, as are your enemies. They can photograph, even film you whenever they want and put it up for millions to see. Another kind of nightmare.
Advantages of being old department.