Opinion: Boxing in memories


“What’s in here?” I asked Mary Ellen as I started to open still another carton the movers had deposited in the lower level of our new home.

“What does it say on the box?” she asked.

“It just says STUFF,” I said.

“Well, that sounds like your kind of labeling system, Dick. A few years ago when we got new carpet, you did the packing alphabetically. The cat ended up in the same box as the computer.”

Before she finished her sentence, I realized this was not a box from our current move, but a box still unopened from two moves ago in 1985. I apparently hadn’t missed whatever was in it for almost 35 years. Anything called “stuff” couldn’t be that important, anyway.

Inside, I found a huge stack of assorted business cards — hundreds of them. I saw it as a good chance to relive old memories, to recall people I hadn’t thought about in decades. On the top of the pile was:


                                                     BELLY DANCER

                                                    (614) 253-XXXX

I had no recollection of Habiba. Seems like someone I wouldn’t have forgotten. Was she a friend from my bachelor days? Maybe she was a guest on a show I did back in Columbus. Memories are just no fun when you can’t remember them. I quickly skimmed through about 100 cards and none of the names rang any bells. It was sad in a way. I’m sure that my possession of each card was preceded by some relationship, short as it may have been. Business cards were so simple back then, with no websites, cell numbers, twitter accounts, LinkedIn addresses or emails. Just: Here’s my name. Here’s my number.  Give me a call. Which by the way, I don’t think I ever did. Not even Habiba. I’d probably remember that.

In that same box was a huge envelope filled with newspaper articles sent by friends. I don’t get much of that anymore. Now, it’s all an internet click away, often stories copied to hundreds of people. But when someone has taken the time to cut out something and snail-mail it to me, I know it must be special. Some of the articles are about really off-the-wall subjects:

Why you can lead a cow up stairs, but not down stairs

Why a duck’s quack doesn’t echo

Why smart people have more copper in their hair

Also in that envelope were funny headlines that had been sent to me over the years:

                                         Homicide victims seldom talk to police

                                            Tight end returns after colon surgery

I see things like this online all the time. But I held the actual printed headlines. On real paper. It truly made them funnier.

My mother had sent me several clippings over the years as well, mostly from my hometown newspaper. At the top of each article she always wrote: “Thought you’d like seeing this. Didn’t you know him?” I finally told her to stop sending obituaries.

Over the weekend, Mary Ellen and I went out to dinner with our old friends Pat and Garry. To spice things up a bit, I casually mentioned that a duck’s quack does not echo and that a cow won’t walk down stairs.

“Wow, that’s fascinating,” Garry said. “Where did you learn these things?”

It’s just stuff I picked up while thinking outside the box

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