Short of taking up arms and going to war, one of life’s most frightening prospects must surely be going through old boxes of your stuff from when you were a kid.

I mean, school reports from first grade through college; birthday cards from dearly missed grandparents; the very first cartoons you ever drew; congratulations cards to your parents on the announcement of your birth; newspaper articles and photos from other times and places. Very little rubs your own mortality in your face than the detritus of decades when you had no idea what “mortality” was.

I spent the weekend cleaning up the house and sorting through a box of stuff my parents sent home with me when last I was in London. Their Southwark flat being about the size of a Smart Car, any bag or box they can get rid of opens up an exponential amount of room at Chez Family.

Old diaries come back to haunt you with the predictability of animatronic spooks at Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Was I a pretentious jerk, a self-centered twit, a feeble and uninspired writer, or am I just being too hard on my 12 year-old self? Did I really send that love letter back in 1980 to a classmate after she got accepted to the University of Dundee, and why did I keep the subsequent “Dear John” letter? Once you moved back to England, why did you never reply to third-grade classmate Laurie Manchester’s letter? I mean, yes, you were 10 years old and all, but (a) did you not realize you kind of liked her, and (b) had you no clue that her dad was the William Manchester, whose work you’d slavishly read a mere twenty years later? Where’s the foresight, kiddo?

Some of the school reports – from schools that no longer exist – seem somewhat telling, in hindsight: “John is creative and enjoys art.” Others were way off base: “John shows talent in mathematics.” Perhaps they’re like horoscopes: grand for picking out what you really want. Throw enough adjectives against the wall and, 40 years later, something will appear to stick.

EXHIBIT THE FIRST – From the front page (above the fold -wheee!) of the Somerset (Pennsylvania) American, Saturday Morning (they emphasize this), August 29, 1964. I’m in the background. My cousin, Mark Frazier, is in the foreground. I am two years old:

EXHIBIT THE SECOND – From the Cumberland (Maryland) Sunday Times, November 20, 1966. I was four. I’m fourth from the right, and apparently already checking out the lay-dees. Way to go, kid! (I actually remember these swim classes very well):

EXHIBIT THE THIRD – From the Central Somerset (England) Gazette, Thursday, May 10, 1979. My sweet 16th year. I’d won an essay competition with a short SF story that sent me on a two-week vacation on the continent with 50 other kids from around the UK.

I believe I’ll go off and whimper for a bit, now…

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