Remembrance of Things Past

Why a little bit of reminiscing about family, friends—and life in general—at holiday time isn’t such a bad thing.

December 2011

In short, there was all the emotionally laden stuff that’s difficult to recount to others but which is very much a part of one’s cellular memory: the particular giggles and swaggers and winks of an eye that are unique to you and your family and your time on this planet thus far. The particulars of the past, jammed into your present.

I didn’t record much. One hour of DVD watching covered two years of life, from a Christmas to a Christmas to yet another Christmas. Kids moved from toddlerdom to kiddom. Sweet awkwardness was replaced by sure-footedness. Singsongy jibber-jabber was replaced by articulate sentences, although the content stayed kidlike and goofy. Christmas presents morphed from stuffed animals into real animals.

I have not laughed or cried or oohed and ahhed so much in my life. Ever. And it was in that meaningful present moment that I re-evaluated, ever so slightly, my desire to embrace the little mementos of the past.

You know when you’re getting old when you spend more time in the past than in the present, or so I’ve heard it said. Perhaps this is true, and perhaps it is in the natural course of events that we live, at different eras of our life, in different vectors on the line graph of time. I suppose there’s value in all directions, and it’s our nature to embrace whatever direction—past, present, future—serves us best.

But when we visit the past too often, we find that the future dissipates, that the videotape runs out on us even as it is happening. And although memories are fundamental and non-negotiable, I still believe there’s a real danger in forgoing the present by sentimentalizing the past. And I also believe that, for me at least, less clutter means more clarity.

So I still like to keep it simple. I recycle most of the kids’ homework and toss my own stuff too. I don’t place much emotional value in ticket stubs, gifts, cards, or other mementos. I collect rocks and books, and that’s pretty much it, and that’s pretty much the way I like it. I still get irritated with people snapping photos or videoing instead of just being. I still don’t know how to transfer photos from my camera to my computer, and I sort of don’t care. I still believe that stuff—and that includes sentimental, emotional stuff—weighs us down more than it helps us.

But those videos created a small, nearly imperceptible shift in my mind. Once in a while, I find myself filing away one of the kids’ special projects, or tucking away a favorite toy, or filling a small shoebox with the year’s tidbits. What the hell, I think, you never know. There will be nights in the future, I hope, when I’ll want to curl up and reminisce, to settle into the past and embrace it and remember. Which is why I’ve dug out the video camera a time or two recently, pointed it at my present, and pressed the red button that previously was anathema to me: record.

Laura Pritchett is a 5280 contributing editor and writes the My Colorado column for the magazine. Email her at [email protected].