Newscasters frequently report on folks forced from burning homes absent their possessions. What frantic decisions were required in Gatlinburg, for instance, about items to save during that emergency? I often wonder what I would do in such a situation.
Actually, I am not a “thing” person. Oh, I enjoy receiving gifts but usually treasure the moment longer than the gift itself. I am also practical: I really do depend on my computer and microwave, among other appliances, every day.
Sentiment and practicality aside, when I moved to my current house, I threw away much of what was piled and stacked in my former home. I had discovered a universal truth: we spend the first half of our lives accumulating stuff – and the second half trying to rid ourselves of it.
It is no surprise, then, that my memories and recollections almost always take precedence over objects. Still, I am pausing today to consider which cherished possession I would take with me in time of crisis.
It might be the picture of a barn, a screen print framed with barn siding. Years ago, GHS student Kelly McDaniel shared a set of her photos which, unbeknownst to her, pictured our farm on River Road. She created screen prints from her photographs, and I purchased the barn picture as a gift for my parents.
Even without the picture, however, I remember my dad calling the cows in from their day’s grazing. We practiced our 4-H modeling between the stanchions and petted the baby calves in their pen. I loved the sight and hated the smell of the freshly-whitewashed interior. As a fraidy cat, I only occasionally clambered around in the haymow and avoided the bull at all costs. The barn picture is special: I can still hear Mother – as she fixed supper – asking if the milkers had been turned off yet.
Or I might head for the door with my first-grade ABC papers in hand. There are 24 of them – B and S are missing – each with an appropriate picture and four capital letters colored in one of eight Crayola colors. The mimeographed sheets, now more than sixty years old, reflect that kindergarten was neither available nor required then. They also remind me of my total frustration at not learning to read on the first day of school – I had to wait 26 whole days!
Of all my books and papers from every level of education, I would want to save these primary pages. They started my love affair with school, but I need not actually look at them to recall those Dick-Jane-and-Sally days.
My current junk room contains a scrapbook of my early German travels as well as the anniversary booklet celebrating 25 years of exchange between GHS and OHG. But, I would choose instead to grab more than twenty small notebooks containing all kinds of information pertaining to our annual sojourns in Springe.
Each year before I returned to America I would buy a new booklet with blank graph paper pages on which I eventually recorded student names, addresses, agendas of meetings held at GHS or in the hallway of our partner school, and itineraries for the next trip. Although the contents of these notebooks remind me of a remarkable school-to-school friendship from which so many people learned so much, I know my mind holds more memories of Germany than ever possible with any scrapbook or notebook.
Then there is the afghan lying over a recliner. Knitted by my mother in creamy white yarn with a multi-colored “flying geese” border, the coverlet is a testament to her handiwork.
Mother spent a lifetime improving her craft. She pored over her knitting books for new techniques and in the margins scribbled calculations for her next project. She made a lavender shawl for her mother and afghans for her grandchildren. She surprised me with my own blanket after my offhand comment that I had no afghan because I had no children.
She taught me to knit, although I never approached her skill level; I watched in awe as she knitted slowly, steadily – and beautifully. When her special ability dwindled after a stroke, her gift to me took on even greater meaning.
Suddenly, however, I know which item I would scoop up on my hypothetical dash out the door: a photograph, with tinted colors washed over its original black-and-white surface. Wearing a pink dress and a happy smile, my one-year-old self “stands”” between my parents on one of the 368 days I spent as an only child; my sister was born three days after my first birthday.
Gazing at the photograph, I have no recollection of the day or the studio. I so wish I could call up memories of my 25-year-old mother and 28-year-old father learning to be parents, with all the baby business I must have introduced into their lives.
Then, I knew my parents only as ever-present caregivers providing for my infant needs. I have no way of knowing what my presence really meant to the soldier-turned-farmer and the former student nurse.
In answer to my self-imposed question, I would choose the photograph. My heart and my mind hold a lifetime of memories of family and school and travels. The long-ago family portrait, however, is my only means of treasuring the early, unrecalled days of a life I have been more than fortunate to live.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.