What do I do with…

What do I do with my father’s Engineering publications, many of which he wrote articles for? No one in the family understands them. No one followed in his path of esoteric learning.

What shall I do with his 1982 card from the Canada Lands Surveyors Professional Affairs Comittee that certifies that he is a duly commisioned Canada Land Surveyor and as such is entitled by law to enter upon any lands for the purposes of any authorized survey under the Canada Lands Surveys Act dated 1982, one year before his death? It is accompanied by a receipt and fastened to a roster of names and addresses, held together by a simple paper clip.Is this worth saving for a family archive? Do I keep the roster with it? and the receipt?

What do I do with the collection of play bills that Mother collected everytime she went to the theatre, which was often? I called the theatre and they are happy to have them, so that one is solved.
What do I do with the cards that she saved, from her children and her sisters, saying “Happy Birthday, Mom” or “Happy Mother’s day” and not much more? And the letters saying, “Everything is fine here. Mom is well” from her sister and little else?

What do I do with the pile of cotton rags she kept, clean and folded, in case we made Christmas Puddings again.They are the remnants of cotton sheets that had seen their day. (I know the recipe now; together we made a batchof Christmas puddings in her ninety third year). Will I ever make one again?

What shall I do with this Royal Bank of Canada calendar from 1968 with its paper apology stapled in a note saying “30 days hath September” in large font, and an explanation of the printer’s error, giving September an extra day – the thirty first.

What shall I do with this poster with Henry David Thoreau’s quotation: “Why should we be in such deperate haste to succeed, and such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away “.

Father would quote this to me often when my trials of teenage years with Mother left me feeling perplexed, depressed and inadequate. He quietly supported me in my vision of myself then and always. This poster hung in the basement far from Mother’s daily view, but Dad and I knew it was there. It was there when I left for Europe. It was there when I came back. It was still hanging as long as Dad was alive and then the quiet symbol of rebellious opposition got put away, but not thrown out. It’s faded now. The colours of the calligraphy have faded. The bright yellow initials that stood out when the poster was young, have obscured into the yellowed background of the acid containing paper it was written on making it hard to decipher,  and the edges are torn and fragile.

What do I do with this box of sheet music that is no longer popular, similarly dying the death of an overdose of acidic content syndrome.

What do I do with the certificates, soberly framed in black, festooned with annual stickers of continuing qualification, of Father’s profession as a Professional Engineer and as a Land Surveyor. And what about his diplomas vaunting his three degrees, Bachelor, Masters and Doctorates, from the Universities of Manitoba, British Columbia and Ohio, in the United States? Sic transit gloria mundi!
Do we carry these honours from one generation to the next, accumulating the proof of our competence forward into the neverending future? Will we need a warehouse for family memorabilia? Or do I consecrate them to the ubiquitous shredder? Or hold a bonfire? Or send them to another relative to make the decision like a Trojan gift to enter their thoughts and consume them with what-to-do’s?

What do I do with all these photographs, these treasures of technology when they were made, of Canada in the far north, where Father was one of the few brave souls who surveyed while there was no development whatsoever up there. He went off with French Canadian couriers de bois, whom we don’t even think exist in today’s society,  who were the best guides for his travels through uncharted territory. They knew how to survive off the land, knew the  signposts of river currents and weather, knew where to find a rabbit or a deer for dinner, and berries for a pie, if some of their precious supplies of flour still remained dry from their thrilling rides through whitewater.

When Father passed the reigns of his office in the Canada Land Surveyors, they presented him with a Ceinture Fleché, one of those magnificent woven multicoloured belts that the courier used from their earliest adventures.

What do I do with Mother’s hairpins and bobby pins, her velcro-like curlers.  What about her ancient collection of office paraphernalia, mini staplers that you could carry in your purse (but can no longer get staples for), paper clips now oxidized with time, hole punchs, split rings, straight pen nibs and yellowing clear adhesive tape.

What about the lapel pins and coffee spoons branded with cities’ insignia enamelled on them, that she collected from her travels? And the tourist pamphlets from Moscow, from China, and Copenhagen, Oslo and Jugoslavia; or printed histories from Greig’s house and Mozart’s, and Beethoven’s; leaflets from the Salzburg salt mines and programs from Oberammergau; from Ayer’s Rock and from the Auckland Art gallery; and postcards from the Blue Mosque somewhere in Turkey and from the Parthenon in Greece.. Mother travelled.

It would be easy to chuck these, but would I need them some future time to capture the length and breath of her wanderings, in her late sixties and her seventies. She wanted to go everywhere, see everything in the world, as long as there was tour bus to take her there. And what do I do with all these group photos of fellow tourists, and “oh yes” there’s Mother in the middle row, three from the left, her 1970’s horn rimmed glasses always a clue to her location in the group.

Without the house, once it’s sold; without these collected detritus of their lives, will my parents still exist in memory?


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