My son came up from Kalamazoo for a five-day visit over the Thanksgiving weekend, and somehow on Sunday morning we found ourselves pawing through an old trunk I had not opened for years. Oh, the treasures that emerged from that archive!
A very modest collection of receipts and tissue wrappings from purchases (e.g., cheese) made in Paris appeared. I could never bear to throw away any scrap of paper that came my way in France, with words printed in French and sometimes a reproduced line drawing of a shop front or of the Eiffel Tower. You must understand that I shivered with pleasure over the phrase “vêtements d’hiver” (winter clothes) scrawled on a box in the closet of the apartment where I first stayed in Paris. Four years of high school French and the smattering I’d picked up before that from my father had not fully prepared me for the wonder of being in a foreign country and actually managing to make my way around in another language, one I felt I’d learned in a way somewhat similar to the way I had learned to read music, another mysterious, magic, “other” language. It worked! I felt like a gifted code-cracker!
Lives of great men all remind us
As their pages o’er we turn,
That we’re apt to leave behind us
Letters that we ought to burn.
Some take great pride in saying No,
They scorn an easy Yes.
Assent is sign of weakness, so
To none will they confess.
For utterance of No they live,
Nor would they have you doubt it.
They’re very, very negative
And positive about it!
Sliding sheets of handwriting from envelopes (first appreciating the beautiful postage stamps), turning pages, shuffling and stacking snapshots and slides are pleasures I have no intention of foregoing, as long as they are available to me, and I hope that will be for the rest of my life.