As a lifelong antique collector and fine artist, I appreciate objects that once belonged to strangers. I fully embrace the concept of recycling on many levels – environmental, global, financial, practical – and aesthetically. I have frequented estate sales for many years – mining the sales for treasures that I incorporate into my collage necklaces, mixed media works, to resell, and on occasion – to decorate my home. I love antiques for many reasons – they offer a glimpse into the past and sometimes reveal fascinating histories. I also appreciate the workmanship and fine materials employed by skilled craftsman of yesteryear.
But I have to admit there is an inherently sad aspect to these sales and now that my elderly parents’ mortality looms on the near horizon, I am seeing possessions in a new light. My mother has been in poor health for a few years – several falls she suffered recently led to cleaning out years of accumulation at my parents’ house. There were a few treasures, but also a lot of junk – the kind of stuff that piles up over the years through entropy – after a dozen or so visits, I have made some progress.
One day this past summer I was about a mile or so from my parents’ house when I saw a couple of women digging through a huge pile of discarded junk on the curb. I hesitated about stopping, but decided to do so. I could not park on this busy street, so I drove around the block and parked on a side street. There were old clothes and the two ladies had pretty much plundered everything else, but a pale blue scrapbook caught my eye. I pulled it out of the garbage can without retrieving anything else and went on my merry way. I took a peek inside its bulging covers and saw that most of the items harkened back to this woman’s youth – from grade school through college.
When I got home, I inspected the contents more closely and quickly deduced that this woman would now be 74 years old, having graduated from high school in 1956. Although I am not going to include her name here for moral and privacy reasons, I Googled her and found nothing. There was no obituary under her maiden name which surely would have been noted. This led to conjecture on my part that she or her relatives sold the house and she moved to an assisted living facility. I did locate a mention of her dad’s death in 1991 on a genealogy site.
Most of the contents (many of which are pictured here) consisted of birthday and grammar school/high school graduation cards, Valentine’s Day cards from beaus and relatives, report cards, and mementoes. On every single greeting card she noted in very small, neat handwriting the gift that accompanied the card. There were a few sentimental items from college including dance books, playbills, a football ticket stub, a dried corsage, a few postcards, and some nifty arcade cards.
I have no idea why this very personal scrapbook with her childhood memories was thrown out in the garbage, but it made me sad. Here are some glimpses of this woman’s life:
- Grew up in Lousiville, Kentucky on Cumberland Avenue
- Was raised Catholic
- Graduated from Presentation Academy
- Volunteered for the American Red Cross Chapter in Louisville
- Received a beautiful Valentine’s card from a guy named Bill
- Went to Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana
- Went on a sightseeing trip to Washington, DC where she met several cute boys and saw Bill Haley and the Comets play
I vowed to honor this mysterious woman’s memory in a mixed media collage incorporating pieces from the scrapbook, the results of which are below. The woman in the center is how I imagined she looked in her 20s – there were no photos of her or anyone else in the scrapbook. Something about finding this scrapbook really struck a chord and made me realize once again how preciously fleeting our lives are – memories last a bit longer, but also disappear with time.