Sunday, April 26, 2015

Letters and legacies

Recently, my husband's backpacking supplies have gotten out of control in the office.

In the effort to reorganize, and clean up our office, Ryan started emptying all the boxes in Maddy's closet. (In hopes of using the freed-up storage for his goods.)

 He unearthed a simply awful pair of neon red (yes, there is such a thing) seventies bell bottoms I bought for Tacky Day in high school. All my maternity clothes (debating whether I should just get rid of those). And my cap and gown from high school -- not to mention every prom dress and bridesmaid dress I've ever worn.

(Have I mentioned to you yet that I am a bit of a pack rat?)

Some of the boxes in her room I had already gone through. I found the earrings that I had my ears pierced with when I was 5. Maddy proudly wears those now. I found a box of notes from Jr. High. A snowglobe picture frame from one of my five proms.

But today, he uncovered a few boxes I hadn't seen in many, many years.

Yearbooks from 3-4 grade.

My sticker book I started when I was Maddy's age.

The diary I got on my 8th birthday.

A letter signed by Bill Clinton on my academic achievement from Junior High. (Of course, I know enough about signatures these days to know it wasn't really signed by him! Just an image of his signature. But the stationary DOES say the White House!)

Writing awards, and my anthology from 7th grade English with Mrs. McAdams -- the teacher that instilled in me the love of writing and drama that I have today.

Photos of my siblings.

A 3-page birthday letter from my dear, oh-so-tactful oldest sister begging me to be more mature so I can just be more like them.

My Brazil mission trip letter where I recount the food, the culture, and the drama we performed there. I had forgotten that we performed for a crowd of over 1,300 people. Some memories seem so faint, almost like forgotten dreams, until some evidence comes up that YES, that thing really did happen. That performance was one of the shadow memories.

My college essay application to Multnomah.

The obituary in the newspaper from when my then-boyfriend 's 16-year-old brother was killed. Photos of our prom together. Life as it was. Life snuffed out.

And letters, letters, letters, letters, letters.

The letters from my late grandparents were the hardest to read through.

Their handwriting so clear, so distinct. Just looking at their handwriting feels like going home. I want to cling to their words. I want them just to come back to me. I want to will my past self to write to them more. To tell them over, and over, how much I love them.

But I can't.

I just have their letters to remember their love by. The memories of Grandma Fulner's soft hands as she stroked my hair and back. How she always made us think we were the best kids ever. Creamed corn, the candy dish hidden from sight, Entenmann's chocolate covered donuts, tea with the pink packets of fake sugar. Popcorn in tupperware bowls, served on tin trays on Sunday nights.

I remember Grandma Enyeart's soft, round waist and brown hair turned gray. The way she made us chocolate pudding for breakfast. The Archer's raspberry cookies and vanilla ice cream we got as a bedtime treat. The big green ball with a handle I rolled down their steep stairs -- when I was on it.

The pink polka-dot dress my Grandpa Enyeart bought me. I've never felt like such a princess as I did that day. The smell of his pipe. The sound of his voice calling me a ding-a-ling.

There were other letters.

Letters from teachers. From my sister Sarah when she lived in Argentina and I had moved to Portland. Letters from my mom in college care packages. A card from a boy I can't remember his name (nor can I read his signature) from college -- thanking me for visiting him in the hospital. Letters from boys that probably liked me, but I was too naive to figure that out at the time. Letters from best friends in elementary school and cards from college roommates.

 It seems so strange that so much of my life -- kindergarten through college -- could be summed up in these two big boxes.

How has life gone so quickly? Wasn't it just yesterday I was living in Hawaii, picking out a seashell magnet to give to my grandparents for Christmas when I was around 10 from the PX? How has 20 years passed since I met my (still) best friends Stevie and Robin in Cheyenne, Wyoming? When did the dreams of the kindergarten Rachel make way for the dreams of my own kindergarten daughter?

When did life happen, happen so fast, and pass?

As I pour through my boxes of memories, often through tears . .  I am struck by 2 thoughts.

First -- I have always been a writer. It's at the core of me. As I used to lay on the sunny Hawaiian beach, I wrote poems in my head, until I could make it home and pour them out on paper. I wrote anthologies and short stories and songs and prayers and journals and dramas. I entered writing contests. I won writing awards. As soon as I learned how to spell, I was writing. And I've never really stopped.

Maybe my work isn't all good -- but it shows me that I have always had a voice that is just trying to come out. No matter my situation or my education -- writing helps me make sense of my world.

Second -- other people's words are also so important. I'm not sure I ever threw a card away judging by the overflowing bags of notes, cards and letters I have toted around through the years.

People who you have long forgotten reminding you that you made a difference in their life. That you somehow brought them joy, hope or comfort. That you brightened their day. That you lived out God to them.

Words written one or two decades ago -- still making an impact on my heart today.

When life goes so quickly, what is there left? Just photos, words and memories. These are our legacies.

As as I think about the fact that my words one day will be left behind me. They will be read by my children and grandchildren.

What words do I want to leave for them? What memories do I need to capture in photographs? What legacy will I leave those I will leave behind?

My hope, as it always has been, is to leave a legacy of love. Of pure, unadulterated, self-less love. A God-kind-of love that far surpasses anything I could muster in myself.

What legacy do you hope to leave? And what memories do you cling to from your childhood?

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