Hello, friends. Hope you had a great 4th weekend. Ours was pretty awesome — we took our son to a nearby zoo on Saturday (though, at present, his favorite thing to do there is sit in a coin-operated banana-shaped car), went to Connecticut to celebrate my grandmother’s 95th birthday on Sunday, and went to the beach (and only got slightly sunburned) on Monday.
The highlight of the weekend, for me, came on Sunday night. While I was in CT earlier that day, I went through all our old family photos and took photos of them with my phone; most of them came out pretty good. (I’ll be sharing them over the coming weeks via Instagram, which I’ll link to my Facebook and Twitter feeds in case you don’t have access.) Also, I asked my mother if she’d seen an old photo album of mine, which I’ve been trying to locate for years; it contains all my high school photos, and I can’t seem to find it anywhere in my own house, so I figured it must be squirreled away somewhere at my mom’s. She volunteered to take a reconnaissance trip up to her attic. When she descended a few minutes later, she didn’t have the photo album, but she was holding a bulging shopping bag.
“This was all I could find,” she said, depositing it at my feet.
I should have known this was something special. The bag, after all, was from Bradlees, a local department store from my youth — a store, which, like my youth, is no longer with us. When I went to pick up the bag by its handles, my mother asked if I wanted another bag to put it in. “Nope, I’m fine,” I said.
“Those handles don’t look sturdy,” my mom warned.
“No, they’re okay,” I insisted, just as the handles broke and the bag fell to the ground. (Yep, Mom was right. AGAIN.) As she went to get a supplementary bag, I peered at the contents. A smaller plastic shopping bag contained my master’s degree cowl from Emerson College, black with a garish purple-and-gold trim. I don’t recall ever having this cowl, but of course, there it was. And then, there was a manila envelope, the kind that has corrugated sides and a built-in elastic to keep it closed. I unwrapped the elastic and took a quick peek inside; at first glance, it looked like a lot of letters and papers.
I semi-recognized a couple of the envelopes as pieces of mail from an old college boyfriend. All of this must be letters from our relationship, I realized. I thought I’d discovered (and discarded) all of our correspondence from that era a long time ago — but here, evidently, was more. Oh, well, I thought. I’ll go through it and take care of it when I get home.
That evening, after we put our son to bed and my husband (exhausted from four hours of round trip driving) retired for the night, I took a break from packing for our beach trip the next day and examined the contents of the envelope. That’s when I got a HUGE surprise. Because, yes, the envelope contained letters from that college boyfriend. But it also contained something else. Or, more specifically, everything else: it was EVERY piece of personal ephemera I saved from roughly 1985-1993, i.e. high school through just after college.
When I say “EVERY piece of ephemera,” I mean it. Ticket stubs from every play and concert. The bill from Fairfield University for damages done to our townhouse my junior year (a colorful year, to put it mildly, but that’s a story for another time). Photos from high school dances. The card that went with the flowers my freshman year boyfriend sent me on opening night of our high school play. The letter from Fairfield’s Office of Student Life, letting me know I’d been hired as an RA. Tags from carnations I’d received from one of our high school flower sales, including one from one of my biggest crushes (so he really did care? The mystery continues). Birthday cards from my sweet sixteen party.
And the letters. You guys, the letters. Of course, this was pre-Facebook, pre-email, when we all wrote letters to each other from college, and throughout the summer break from college. There are letters from my best friends, letters from high school classmates, and letters from people I only remember as acquaintances. The letters are amazing, not just because they often come from unexpected sources, but because they are all so funny and sweet and genuine.
In the middle of reading through all of this, I cried.
If you know me at all, you know I am a nostalgia junkie. I think it comes with the territory of being a children’s book writer that I love thinking about my childhood and adolescence and remembering — to the point of reliving — what it was like back then. Usually it’s fun to take that trip down memory lane, but it can also be painful — not because the memories are traumatic, but because they are so lovely and feel so immediate, and yet, are so evanescent.
So I cried because the past materialized so vividly for me that night — it was like taking a hit on a big ole nostalgia crack pipe. The high lasted longer than it ever has, and it was stronger than it has ever been; for a few moments there, I truly felt transported. And then, of course, eventually, the feeling was gone.
But I also cried because I was reminded of just how smart and hilarious and caring my childhood friends were. And are, because I am still friends with most of you. Did you/do you know what an exceptional friend you were to me, back then? If not, I would like to remind you.
I’ll be sending an email out in a few days, to everyone whose ephemera I found in this mysterious, miraculous envelope. If you’re game, I’ll send you a copy of whatever it was you sent me, along with my very sincere thanks.
Someday, I can’t wait to share this time capsule with my son. Of course, I want to show him what life was like, way back when. But I also want to show him just how supportive and kind and smart and witty my friends were — I can only hope it will encourage him to surround himself with his own good, strong circle. I had no idea what riches that unassuming Bradlees bag would reveal, but I’m so glad it reminded me that my friends have been my life’s greatest treasure.