After my mom died, I hauled three big boxes of paperwork out of her house. These boxes have been sitting in my garage, waiting for me to sort through them; a task I have been avoiding for almost a year.
I believe my mother was either a lawyer in a previous life or an accused felon because through the paperwork she kept she can prove her whereabouts for virtually every day of her life. Neatly organized by year, my mother kept every receipt, estimate, manual, and report. Have you ever purchased something and while throwing away the warranty card wondered who actually fills those cards out? The answer is: my mother! If my mother purchased a lawn mower with a five-year warranty, and it broke down after four years and eleven months, she could pull out the manual, the receipt, and the name of the salesman who sold it to her. By the way, if your name is Joe and you worked at Sears in 1982, I apologize on behalf of my entire family. According to my mother’s notes, she phoned you three times to complain about a faulty weed whacker
It was hard not to feel sentimental when I began the sorting process. Ah, there is my mom’s handwriting. Look, my dad’s high school diploma. But eventually I took a more practical approach. Do I really need my parents tax return from 1963? (In case you are curious, they earned a combined $10, 941 that year. My mom as a bank teller and my dad as a high school history teacher.) Or how about my brother’s preschool evaluation? Apparently he was very good a pasting. I found my vaccination report from 1970, so I can mark worry about Rubella off my list. I can prove I was baptized, I can prove I was adopted, and I can prove that on September 8, 1987 my parents both had the halibut for dinner at Steamers. I can also tell you my brother’s SAT scores from 1985, which proves he is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.
It was weird going through the minutia of my parent’s life together, decades of bills, receipts, and contracts. But in the midst of the mounds of documentation, there were treasures. A letter from my grandmother to my brother on his ninth birthday declaring him a dream come true, and a note from 1971 in my mom’s handwriting telling a random babysitter that I like tuna fish for lunch, and I do not like the bedroom door closed when I fall asleep. How about my dad’s college transcripts? I had no idea he failed psychology. Had I known that thirty years ago, it would have come in handy.
In the end, I shredded ninety-nine percent of the boxes contents. You simply can’t carry around decades of tax returns and notes on plumbing repairs, and now that it is over, I am glad the boxes are gone. Still, journeying through my parent’s paper trail was not a bad way to spend an afternoon.