A Leader’s Treasured Memories

Where do you keep all your important family photos and letters? In neatly designed scrapbooks and photo albums? Or are they in more modest trappings… say, maybe like shoe boxes?
Treasured Memories

Linda — another Betty at The Betty Brigade — and I worked one day a week with a charming elderly gentleman, helping him organize his extensive memorabilia, so he could enjoy it in albums, scrapbooks and on DVDs, and ultimately, so his children and grandchildren will one day have meaningful keepsakes of their family history.

Wednesdays at 1:30 pm, we would ring the bell and our client would open the door in jeans, flannel shirt and suspenders. With his tiny white dog by his feet, he would invite us, not just into his home, but into his life.

As we sorted through the hundreds of slides, photos, letters and clippings, we met our client’s relatives, colleagues and friends. Each photo, every carefully written journal entry, told a story, and our client would fill in the details.

We marveled at daguerreotypes from the 1800’s. We reverently opened and read the dance cards his mother saved from college “doings” a century ago. He shared with us his wedding, the births of his children, the houses they lived in, the trips they took, the many moves they made as our client’s prodigious career took him from one great University to another.

As we sorted through these mementos, our client described the special people in his life — secretaries, students, friends, children, patients, even a waitress at “Belle’s Diner.” One letter brought a rare sadness to his face, and he spoke of a colleague who presented him with a poorly written manuscript for our client’s comments. It was a letter he had agonized over. An old photo of a dog brings the smile back. It’s Albert, a beloved Basset Hound.

The professional awards are endless. “I don’t know what to do with them,” he said, shaking his head, still astonished that ever received them in the first place. The biggest award came that year — a lifetime achievement award from an illustrious professional group. But the award he was proudest of in his long career is a “Boss of the Year” certificate presented to him two decades ago.

The scores of clippings about him and articles he penned, he saved out of duty for his children. But the ones he most wants to keep and re-read are the letters of recommendation and referral he has written for others.

Have you ever spent an afternoon looking through family photos that aren’t organized? It gives you a time-tripping kind of feeling. There was our client as a newborn baby. There he was in high school. Now he was 5, playing in the snow. Now he was at his retirement party. And there he was, seated at the dining table with us, smiling over memories.

It’s like listening to Kurt Vonnegut’s character, Billy Pilgrim, becoming “unstuck in time,” one moment giving a speech as an old man, the next moment in Dresden Germany during the war.

If you do this long enough and often enough, it offers you a perspective that life is a collection of moments. That one happened after another becomes irrelevant.

It’s a reminder that time is short and that the people we love are what matter. For Linda and myself, browsing through this man’s history was a gift, because we have come to know him so well and to care about the people he loves — although they’re people we will never know.

Our client said we helped him, and I’m glad. But he has done so much more for us. These Wednesday afternoons with him in his home, his little dog always by his side, have been among the most rewarding in my time at The Betty Brigade.

Please feel free to comment and share with us any memorabilia and mementos stories you might have. I would love to hear them.

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