Long Post Ahoy!

On May 27, 2007 by Eden M. Kennedy

I guess it was Friday, and my brother, Tim, and I were gleefully throwing away all the bits and pieces that my father had saved over the years. This, for example:

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I was a student at the University of Edinburgh in 1984/85, and during my Easter break I met my parents to do some traveling (Germany, Amsterdam, Paris, London, and up to Edinburgh). Last Friday I found a box containing every piece of paper my father picked up during that trip. Itineraries, luggage tags, road maps, hotel stationery, rental car receipts, Paris Metro tickets, and the postage ripped off of a cardboard box in which I’d sent something home at the end of the term. I keep wondering if there are any actual photographs from that trip anywhere (apart from the ones from my camera). My father had a thing about using slide film instead of print film, but our slide projector broke in 1973 so we never actually got to see most of the stuff he took pictures of. I know I’ve complained about my father’s cheapness before, but as soon as we find the box of slides that I know is around here somewhere I’ll gladly spend whatever hundred bucks and buy a new projector and hope that between me and my brothers we can piece it all together.

Anyway: Tim and I, going through stuff, neither of us having any idea what we’d ever do with it, pretty though it was — never mind the guilt — into the trash it did get put.

WELL. That same night, after my mom and my brother, Chris, were in bed, I was walking toward the bathroom to brush my teeth when at the far, dark end of the hall — I didn’t SEE anything, but I had a serious and distinct psychic impression of my dad dressed up like Jacob Marley’s ghost, wearing the chains he’d forged in life:

You know, from Dickens. Like my dad was fucking pissed that we’d thrown out all this stuff he’d so lovingly, anxiously saved. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t looked at it in twenty years, he just liked knowing it was there, and we’d gone and fucked that up and it didn’t matter that he’d been dead for ten days, HE STILL KNEW WHAT WE’D BEEN DOING.

Okay. Now, if you’ve read this site much you know that I’m basically agnostic. I stopped going to church when I was thirteen. However, having had a few shall we say interdimensional experiences in my life — people have tugged on my psychic ropes and I’ve tugged back — I actually felt ready to deal with this. Whether it only existed in my slightly panicked and grieving mind or whether it was something else, I was ready to step up.

So as I felt this whatever, this image or presence come at me, I just stood there and said (not out loud, just sort of fiercely in my head), “Dude, WHAT. I’m sorry we threw your shit out, we didn’t know what else to do. I’m really sorry.”

And I meant it, I was truly, humbly apologizing. Even if I was just talking to a movie still in my head and my own guilty conscience, I needed to say that. I felt bad for what I’d been doing.

The feeling eased up on me then and gave me sort of a heavy, psychic, chain-laden hug. And I said (in my head), “You want to hang out in my room for awhile? I’ll be there in a minute.” And I went and brushed my teeth.

I didn’t get a whole hell of a lot of sleep that night, but we talked about maybe donating some of the maps and stuff to an art class.

I know that a lot of people believe that their energy or soul or whatever survives death, with or without the personality developed through hard experience in this life, and if that indeed is the case I can tell you, my dad is still holding on tight.

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My grandfather’s high school diploma, Ashland, Wisconsin, 1919. Can you see how huge it is? I put a paperclip on the corner to give you some idea of the scale of it. I found it in a box buried under a huge stack of napkins my dad had stolen from Dairy Queen. I mean, honestly, Dad, what’s up with that? Beside the fact that it’s not terribly archival, it would have been a lot more fun to go through this stuff with you when you were alive so that you could tell me who this is:

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I think it’s you — you would have been sixteen the summer of ’44 — but none of us knows for sure. And I have no idea who is who here:

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Five of seven childhood-survivin’ Marriott brothers. If the oldest two are in front, then that means they’re Joseph and Frederick. Then in the back is my great grandfather, Harry, and the other two are either Frank, Charles, or Albert. I know for a fact that their mother, Anne, had eight children between 1855 (when she was 24) and 1875 (when she was a year older than I am now), and that two of them, including the only girl, Rosa, died before the age of ten.

Yeah, it would have been better to go through this stuff with my dad, but you know what, truth be told, I didn’t like coming back home much, and when I made the trip I kept it short. My dad was a huge presence in this house, he dominated every room, whether he was in it or not, and the only way to elude the Big Flashlight was to get out. He intimidated every boy I ever brought home, except for Jack, so I made up a lot of excuses so I wouldn’t have to bring them here. When I moved away I moved 2,000 miles away, and sometimes even that wasn’t enough, he’d still send letters every week and he’d pout when I didn’t send one back. He was a terrifically hard father to separate from. Just ask my brother, Chris, who never really moved away, and who’s been living here since his girlfriend died in 1999.

Anyway. Now it’s Sunday and I haven’t been into my dad’s stuff for two days. I found some junk mail with his name on it in the kitchen and I felt like I had to ask his permission to throw it out. Next thing you know I’ll be asking my dinner if it’s okay if I eat it. (This could put me off meat for good.)

I still have another thirty pictures to post, but just like when I threw out all those clothes, it’s mentally exhausting to catalogue all this shit. I think there’s some use in it, though: I could have it completely talked out before my next therapy appointment.

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Comments

comments

43 Responses to “Long Post Ahoy!”

  • The “heavy, psychic, chain-laden hug” reminds me of hugging my dad now. I don’t know why my mom still keeps him chained up like that.

    I think this is my favorite post on any website, ever. And in every single category.

  • Baby, I can’t believe you read the whole thing. Would you like an Alka Seltzer?

  • Your account of this is remarkably similar to what I went through when my father died in 2005, particularly the wrenchingness of dealing with all the STUFF, as well as the sense of a psychic presence. I found that I couldn’t quite write about it, so I’m really, really glad that you have managed to do it so eloquently.

  • you know, if everyone who has read your blog hadn’t already said this, i’d take this opportunity to mention what a wonderful writer you are.

  • when my grandmother died my mom and I both got that feeling as we were waaiding through STUFF. My mom stood up and yelled

    “You are DEAD, you are no longer ALLOWED to be a PACK RAT!”

    a few minutes later the hinky feeling fled

  • Brilliant, fidget. Exactly.

  • I just read the whole thing too, early on Memorial Day morning (appropriate?) and loved it.

    I so enjoy your writing, Mrs. Kennedy — when “Fussy” shows up in bold in Google Reader, I start jumping up and down.

    Anyway I just wanted to say, those slides? I think you can take them to a store (like Best Buy maybe?) and they will scan them all and put them on DVD for you. I think my dad did this with his parents’ stuff. It would help, obviously, if they were in some kind of order, so you’d still have to wade through and sort them, but then you could have multiple digital copies. And on you could skip the boring ones. (In my family that would be the gazillion shots of my parents’ friends teeing off on various Myrtle Beach golf courses in the 1960s.)

  • Great post – those pictures are awesome. I wish my parents had held onto half that much stuff. We don’t have nearly enough DQ napkins here.

    I’m also really pleased that you linked to that anal love post that I never would have read otherwise, because it made me laugh – you slapping the steering wheel in agreement.

  • it’s pretty easy to scan slides yourself if you have a scanner and a slide attachment.

  • I just found your blog and kind of love you already. I’m so sorry about the death of your dad, even though he is still very much with you, it seems.

    I would have probably eaten the cookies and I LOVE the airplane photo of you and him…what a treasure.

  • Thanks for all the scanning advice, guys, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. If we ever find the @&$%# slides.

  • I’m new here as well. Lurking for a few weeks. Doing my damndest not to fall in love with you. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I do like you a whole lot.

    Anyway, as a marginally interesting aside, few people know that Dickens’ original manuscript was full of editorial corrections. After reading your above entry, the one most brought to mind is his exchange with Jacob Marley. The line that we all read now is, “Mercy!” he said. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”
    But originally it said, “Shit!” he said. Dreadful apparition dude, why do you trouble me?”

    Freaky, huh? It’s like you were channeling Dickens in your parent’s hallway.

    I hope this process proves to be cathartic for you. xo

  • The “psychic connection” happened for me days after my dad died. Lights turning on and off unexpectedly, like one time when I was sitting outside his apartment complex at midnight smoking and drinking and all the lights went out everywhere, then came back on as soon as I opened the door to go back inside. I could see him in my minds eye saying to whomever “hey, watch this shit” then giggling his ass off as I freaked out.

    I feel for you, having to go through all your dad’s stuff so soon after his death. I didn’t have to do it until after my mom and brother had gone through the bulk of it. It’s very painful when you are still so raw after the sudden loss.

    Like you, I found stuff that dated back decades. At first it was all the cards and lettters my brothers and I had written to him. I thought I’d discovered a sentimental streak in my emotionally unavailable dad. Then I found bills and receipts that dated back to the same time and realized it wasn’t senitmentality that made him keep everything, it was just an inablity to throw stuff away.

    Be strong. Our thoughts are with you.

  • Some flea markets and what-not have old photographs people can buy for their art projects.

    It is definitely a trip to think about how something can go from a snapshot of one’s own cherished memory to a photograph that symbolizes something special to a loved one to something that is cool in its own way, but without the emotional or familiar connection.

    The stuff served its purpose: it showed you that he cared about the trip with you in ’84-85, and other moments in time that he preserved.

  • I love this love love love. After my grandfather died he sat in my room for weeks until I finally told him to go to sleep.
    Now he just comes in dreams and we have tea. Does that make any sense?

  • I attended a CLE a few years back for estate planning/probate attorneys, and there was an entire hour devoted to what to do with the “stuff” people leave behind. Obviously, many things will be trashed, but you’d be amazed at how many museums are interested in personal histories and memorabilia, as it helps them to flesh out the cultural history of a particular place/time.

    You’re welcome to email me if you are interested in donating. I’ll scan and email you the info I have.

  • In my old family photos, I found envelope filled with old photos. On the outside of the envelope, in my Dad’s handwriting, “Photos to be discarded”. Thanks for leaving them behind Dad!

    Going through the “stuff” let’s you see the side never got to see of your parents…. I’ve learned things that have answered my questions about their behavior, and I have more more questions that may never have answers.

    Epson 4990 photo scanner is great…. but I recommend you just drop off the slides and put on disks.

  • Holy crap! I went to college in Ashland, WI and my good friends lived in the former elementary school!

  • Belated condolences. I’m so sorry to read about your father – I’ve been lurking on your blog for ages, and enjoy your writing very much.

    I’m sure this is a hard time for you. I’m so sorry.

  • When my dad died, I kept wishing for some kind of psychic experience or message from the afterlife. Even though yours doesn’t sound all that pleasant, at least it’s some kind of lasting connection.

    But my dad just wasn’t there; he was gone.

  • Great pictures! I hope you’re doing as well as you seem to be.

  • I am also just adoring these posts and all your pictures. I’d consider myself unforgivably nosy if it weren’t for the fact that you’re not doing it because I asked you to. My heart did that “grew three sizes larger thump thump” thing when I saw the sweet picture of you and your dad. Awwww!

    My mom and dad brought home a gi-normous amount of old pictures and letters and stuff after my dad’s mom died. My mom has done a lot of our family’s geneaology so when it’s my turn to sort through ancient pictures, I’ll know who they are. Heck, she framed a bunch of them.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing.

  • My brother and I both just moved home and in both of our closets and drawers and in the guest bedroom and EVERY-FUCKING-WHERE there is STUFF.

    I found a People magazine with Oprah on the cover from 1998. I don’t think I will ever understand nor will I attempt to even try.

  • I love this, and I love you, but if you give up meat I’m going to beam a psychic presence over there to whip your ass.

  • Hard to say this after Mr. Hughes’ comment, but the last photo is adorable! Was that your Dad’s plane? And you look so much like Jackson, what with the Buster Brown haircut. Very sweet. But a little bit like he’s dangling you from a plane.

  • There are actually scanners that will convert slides to digital images. Last time I looked, one that a friend said was decent ran about $250. Might be more fun, in the long run, than just a projector.

  • The Jacob Marley Dad would freak me the hell out too. I think you handled it pretty well!

  • I’m so sorry for your loss – you’ve given me a lot to reflect on, having gone through a similar loss.

    The last photo? I don’t know who they are, but the little one looks a lot like Jackson. Is it you and your father?

  • This is … epic.

    It is so much like going through my grandparents’ house — sayyy, does that photo of all the Marriott bros. say “Duluth, Minn.” … ? Eerie. I mean, Suuperior.

  • I know you’ve got all this stuff, maybe one of the local historical societies could make some use of it. I’m from Wisconsin and the State Historical Society would probably think the diploma is cool.

  • That bottom picture is perfection.

  • Oh, I so feel for you. When my dad got ill and went into a nursing home my sister and I went through all the stuff in the house. I found the bill from the hospital for my birth in 1961 in an old stove on the back porch. There were about a hundred coffee cans in the basement. He was a child of the depression and never threw anything away.
    After he died, he’d visit me in my dreams all the time. I still dream about him, but he no longer visits. Now it’s just a dream.

  • My father was also a packrat. When my mother and I went through the stuff left in the house when she was moving, we found he’d kept not only the final copies of all of the ads he’d ever written (he was in medical advertising so they were mostly print ads for tranquilizers and antibiotics) but also all the drafts with the crossed-out words and rewrites. Those had to go. But I did keep a few of the final ads and also 99% of his letters and all of his diplomas and actually just about everything else. Now I own it all, in my basement, carefully put into boxes. Since I have no kids I have no idea what happens next but I couldn’t throw it all out.

    I found my mother is also more of a packrat than I ever gave her credit for. She kept every letter she ever got too, and some were very illuminating. (Of course I had to spot-read a lot of them as I was going through them.)

    It’s wonderful you have all those old pictures. Try to label all of the ones you can, even if you’re not 100% sure who every person is.

    I too feel my father’s presence; in fact, more now that he’s been gone a couple of years than before. My dad had Alzheimer’s so he wasn’t himself at the end but now I hear his voice in my head often.

  • hey… I haven’t commented or written with condolences yet because I haven’t known quite what to say, but I’ve been following along with fascination. I did a lot of digging through old photos and paraphenalia when my grandfather died, and I discovered that my dad didn’t know a lot about who was in some of the photos and why they’d been kept, either. Part of me wished I’d asked while my grandfather was alive, but realistically, it wouldn’t have happened. It would have involved a lot of sucking up, and the fact that I was incapable of sucking up is exactly why he didn’t like me.

    Anyway… I’m so sorry for your loss, and I’m so glad you’re sharing this experience. It’s incredibly generous, for one thing, and I think it’s therapeutic (or at least thought-provoking) for all of us.

  • Bossy likes other people’s sentimental things more than her own family’s.

  • I’m sorry I’m late with my condolences but I was in Tennessee where my family was cleaning out my Aunt Alice’s house. We didn’t have time to go through a lot, just packed it up and brought it back to Ohio to go through later this summer. It was a bittersweet experience like finding crumpled up kleenix in the pocket of every piece of clothing we touched.

    My Mom is also a pack rat. Thankfully my Mom, sisters and I spent a couple of weekends three years ago and cleaned out the basement. I have never laughed so long and so hard with my family before or since. I’ll never forget finding the clothes I wore in high school (30 years ago), the box full of vacation brochures we kids collected at the rest stops on our vacations, a pair of my youngest brother’s (disintegrating) plastic diaper pants, used over cloth diapers before the advent of disposible diapers. One of the most touching though was when my mother came across a envelope with a piece of burnt toast in it that a boyfriend from college had sent her when she was on a singing tour with a campus vocal group. I will always cherish that opportunity my sisters and I had to connect with my mother and learn more about her.

  • I’m sorry about your dad. It’s never fun losing a parent.
    But, you had me peeing my pants with the “take the photo already” comments.

  • In a way all of you are lucky that you have these knick-knacks and things to go through – when my parents divorced a lot of things got thrown out (I guess they didn’t want the memories). So my sister and I don’t have many things from our ancestors. I would love to find boxes of things like these…I think they would make you feel more secure in your part of the world.
    A real pity though Eden that you couldn’t go through them with your Dad when we was still alive.

  • I am sorry about your dad.

    I also love that bottom photo. You were a cute little girl, too.

    Today I sent a friend to your 9-volt versus E battery post and I was very happy to do so.

    Take care.

  • I am going through my own ridiculous amount of things and it’s hard to get rid of the little reminders of days I’ve almost completely forgotten. I wish I was a person with a minimalist esthetic but I have been unable to turn my intake to outgo as yet. And I’m only 34.

    I have the exact bear you are holding in the plane pic, minus the stripey clothes. My kid plays with him now, but he used to be my dad’s.

  • What a tough job. Glad you are keeping your humor through the sorting.

  • How much do I love that last pic?

    Lots.

    I have a distinct feeling that my siblings and I are going to be going through the exact same thing.

    My Dad keeps EVERYTHING.
    And about it, we know NOTHING.
    And I don’t know how we’re going to throw anything out if my brother Craig doesn’t steal it all because most of what is stashed in his closest still has price tags on it from 30 to 40 years ago.

    Maybe Ebay. Maybe we’ll do that.

    Unless of course Craig steals it. I’ve actually resorted to just giving him some of my things that are left there, because I know that he’ll just take them anyway. And this way, I somehow feel like I was in control.

    Did I comment? Or just blog a post on your site?

  • I went through something similar when my brother died. He saved everything. I even found his library card from when he was in second grade. It’s hard because you are trying to deal with the loss, and you are confronted by all the memories.