Sentimental Clutter

          By Maida Korte

                    “Our Memories are within us, not within our things.” – Joshua Fields Millburn

          I am in the middle of a paper project.  It is a film, book, fabric, awards, school-work, photograph and paper project in reality.  You see, a bee began buzzing in my bonnet during that quiet week between Christmas and New Years, a few months ago.  This was after the major portion of glorious familial holiday hoopla had been experienced and those memories neatly tucked away.   In a moment of solitude, a crazy notion came upon me and I decided to drag out all the boxes and bins that had been stuffed away in closets during our most recent move nearly four years ago.  These boxes hold the memories of multiple life-times. Nostalgic mementos telling the stories of my parent’s early years, my own childhood along with those of my siblings, tales of my grand-parents, old photo albums falling apart, medals, swatches, scraps of cards, art work, and slides with no projector. I possess countless letters from relatives written to me a long time ago, as I am well into my older woman years, which all combine to connect me to a past that needed revisiting.  Taking up the most room are photographs of my four daughters, along with their art work, school papers, love cards, hand-written stories and athletic achievements which all together have formed the time-line of four young lives learning how to grow up.   Sifting through thousands and thousands of items has me moving from swift and purposeful to sobbing in a crumpled heap as I remember scenes from long ago.

          The need to remember is primal to me as I sift through sentimental items that I can hold in my hands.  Primal in the sense that I do not drive the feelings that come over me as I gently pick up my father’s high school diploma, remembering the stories of how one week after graduation he enlisted in the army and before he could go overseas the war ended.  Off to Germany for five years as part of the America’s peace-keeping troops, returning to the United States to begin college at Illinois Institute of Technology on G.I. Bill, to marry and continue college in order to support a wife and kids born one after the other.  I feel vividly this mid-western work ethic that has a stratospheric trajectory which has infused my own life and those of my children.  I gently pick up one of dozens of notebooks filled with my mother’s hand-writing and I flip through pages of beautiful cursive as I note her delicate self.  Always self-examining and striving to be better, when she was already perfect in my eyes, clouds my soul with tears as I am reminded of her humanity mixed with brilliance mixed with kindness.  The moments that memories bring vault me toward my own sense of striving.  I purpose to do better and the source of inspiration comes, yet again, from my parents who died 35 and 32 years ago.  I reflect on keeping their memories alive for generations to come and realize I have stories to tell.  Singing in the ever-present station wagon no matter how short the trip, the constant shuffling of furniture from one room to another since my mother could not abide a quiet simple life, a list of chores for every Saturday morning of my childhood written by my father with the directive to ‘help your mother,’ and books.  Always books, in every room, on every rough sawn and coarse shelving system built by my untalented carpenter father.  It is easy to forgive the sagging and heavily burdened shelves since this greater literary canon influenced my own love of reading as a child and for the generations that follow. 

          Newspaper clippings from my brother’s athletic achievements, the scrawls of my children’s stories written laboriously on large lined paper, photographs that show the blue eyes inherited from generations long ago, forgotten academic awards, historical news clippings gently and gingerly placed now into special boxes to inhibit disintegration,  school year-books telling dreams both loud and soft – some coming true and others a peak into private musings, all worthy tasks as I pour over each item.  Since it is inevitable that some items will not make it into the ‘save’ box, I throw nothing away carelessly.  I look, reflect and toss, much like cleaning out a beautiful garden bed in order to make room for new growth.  As I work through copious quantities of sentimental clutter, I play music in the back-ground:  Gigli, John Gary, early Beatles and Roger Miller, all selected for the way they bring me back to my childhood where I lived a long time ago.  I salvage and sort and store knowing that some day others, whom I love, will gently peak into the memory box that time creates and our most precious selves reside. 

4 Responses to “Sentimental Clutter

  • Allan James
    7 months ago


    • Thank you Jimbo so much – every time you write a comment it literally (not kidding about this) makes my heart soar. You always encourage me. Love you so much my brother – Love Maida

  • Diane Cilla Johnson
    7 months ago

    Maida, what a journey you take the reader on…..
    Being the same age as you, we find ourselves either being swallowed up by the “sentimental clutter”, or cold to its existence. Maybe you have provoked a journey here?

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