I spent the better part of a week in November with my wife, sister, and brother-in-law, sorting through more than 60 years’ worth of everyday life.
It was a sad occasion, but it brought feelings of pride and happiness, too.
My sister, Tammy, and I – well, mostly our spouses – were cleaning out our childhood home after the death of our 86-year-old father. We knew our dad, Donald Brackenbury, as a man of quiet strength, integrity, and good nature. He had carried on for five years after the death of our mom, Marjorie, but life wasn’t the same, and then cancer took hold this summer.
All of us, in one way or another, have experienced these times of loss in our lives. Memories from long ago become even more cherished.
As we began the process of cleaning out the house our dad built with his own hands in 1960 – and that our mom made into a home – it was mostly the routine items that brought fond memories and the biggest smiles.
In a closet we found our dad’s heavy winter fatigues jacket from his days in the Air National Guard, with its chevron signifying a master sergeant and the green and blue patch of the 143rd Tactical Airlift Group.
On an old bookcase were my parents’ musty high school yearbooks, from 1952 and 1956. Clearly, from the inscriptions of his classmates, my dad was “a swell guy” even in those days.
His varsity letter “A” (for the old Aldrich High School in Warwick, Rhode Island), red with blue piping, looks as clean and fresh as it probably did on the day he got it some 70 years ago.
Same with my mom’s 63-year-old wedding gown, which we found carefully folded in a box in the back of their bedroom closet.
Scattered somewhat randomly in envelopes tucked in drawers and in boxes on shelves were countless childhood photos that I forgot existed, like the ones of Tammy and I in our Easter Sunday best (including my red plaid sport coat).
And in the cellar, my 8-year-old granddaughter Sydney and I found the wooden measuring stick that used to be nailed to the inside of my bedroom closet, marking growth through the years. According to the notations scribbled on that stick, I grew 2½ inches from January to August 1971, when I was 12 years old. I hit 6-1½ at age 15 in September 1974, but pretty much stopped there. Now, I’m going in the opposite direction.
It felt especially meaningful to share that moment, on the day of my dad’s funeral, with Sydney. Call it one of those circle of life things.
If there’s one universal positive in what has been a year that most of us would like to forget, it’s that 2020 has “forced” us to slow down and spend more time with some of the people closest to us.
Even in the most challenging of times, there are simple, everyday moments that we’ll look back on and cherish.
But as we approach 2021, here’s hoping for a healthier and more prosperous year in which we all get the chance to create considerably more happy memories.