A Case of the Human Condition: I’m a Woman with a — Sprawling — Past

A corsage my sophomore year.

A corsage from my sophomore year in high school. c 2009 B.F. Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

The trouble with painting the inside of your closets is — everything has to come out of them.

And then what do you do with all your beloved stuff?

If you’re me, you don’t throw it away.

But what if your beloved stuff is in disarray?

What if your Girl Scout merit badges are mixed in with the portrait of your father’s high school football team and your mother’s baby photos and your World War II ration book?

My Great-great-grandmother Harlow from Red Wing, Minnesota. C 2009 .F. Newhall

A photo of my mother's great-grandmother Harlow from Red Wing, Minnesota. Walinger Studio photo

If you’re me, you want to impose some order on all your wonderful old belongings. And on your past while you’re at it.

Which takes time. Lots of it.

As a result, ever since we painted the interior of our house last year, all the good stuff I pulled out of our closets has been sprawled around my writing room, taking up space, waiting to be sorted and put away.

Twenty-eight cartons of it. Calling to me.

Finally, yesterday, I did it. I organized my beloved stuff — and my rather extensive past — into twelve tidy, carefully labeled business boxes.

To wit:

Five of the 28 boxes. c 2009 B.F. Newhal

Five of the 28 boxes. c 2009 B.F. Newhal

“High School Stuff.” The corsage of red roses from my sophomore year at Birmingham High School, in Birmingham, Michigan. The insect collection I did for biology class. The report card with the note from my social studies teacher, “You talk too much.”

“Grandma Falconer.” My grandmother’s wedding photos. Photos of the family barn and silo in Scottville, Michigan, and some cows. My great-grandmother’s speech to the Michigan Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

“My year in Heidelberg.” Coasters from a Bier Stube. Train tickets to Paris and Moscow. A telegram from my parents asking why I hadn’t written in two weeks.

A photo of me as a student in Heidelberg. C 2009 B.F. Newhall

A photo of me as a student in Heidelberg. c 2009 B.F. Newhall

The boxes go on: My years growing up in Detroit. As a student at the University of Michigan. As a twenty-something in New York City. As a hippie in  San Francisco. As a respectable, hardworking mom.  Everything in a box. Everything in its place.

And nothing, nothing at all, in the trash.

© 2009 Barbara Falconer Newhall

A card welcoming the dear baby me to the family. C 2009 B.F. Newhall

A card welcoming the dear baby me to the family. c 2009 B.F. Newhall







The remains of my high school insect collection. I got an A. C 2009 B.F. Newhall

The remains of my high school insect collection. I got an A. c 2009 B.F. Newhall

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  1. Marie MacGillis
    Posted July 18, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    This is my favorite post!

    • admin
      Posted July 19, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      Marie, You are a lot cuter than your great-great-great grandmother Harlow!

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