Boxes of Memories
by Don Osborn
Donny rides Aric's backyard quarter pipe, our first ramp.
Do you have boxes of old stuff laying around, grade-school report cards, high-school newspapers, notebooks, folders, photographs, song lyrics, free style BMX magazines, school pictures of you and your classmates, love letters, birthday cards, postcards from your Grandma, Iowa Basic Skills test results, college writing papers, books, books, and more books? My mom and I worked in conjunction to save an unbelievable amount of my life's work and mementos. My parents had been storing the stuff in their attic for over 25 years, some of it. They figured they had held on to it long enough, and when I was home for Mother's Day we dug out the numerous boxes and loaded them into my car.
I've spent a few nights here and there sorting through this stuff. What a long, strange trip it's been. Forgotten memories, long-lost junior-high crushes, faces no longer familiar, the pangs of teenage love, the joys of first playing music with friends, the realization of just how loved I was, and am... It truly has been an overwhelming experience.
There are a lot of things I could write about as a result of this cleaning house, but I'll try to limit this column to a couple main questions. It was a tough decision in deciding whether to keep or throw some of this stuff. There was no way I was keeping all of it, so some of the old notebooks and folders had to go. High school Calculus folder? Recycling. College class Principles of Management? Recycling. But what about the only letter I received as a result of my 7th-grade crush on a High School Junior? I saw Gayle sing with a choral group while I was at Wood Lake summer camp near Grantsburg, WI. I was smitten. She was beautiful. She was older. She was from a major metropolitan area. I talked to her after their concert and got her address. I wrote her a letter and surprisingly she wrote back. There I was in 2005, 20 years later, sitting on a folding chair in my garage, reading this letter. Did I need to keep it? Is it a reminder of the boy that I was? Or does it help explain the man that I am? If I lose the letter, do I lose whatever that experience added to my life? Will I be more likely to forget it ever happened?
These are some of the questions I had when looking through the catalog of my life. I could remember feeling my heart strings pulled when I watched Gayle on stage, and the elation when she actually wrote back. But is that hopeless romantic still alive in 32-year-old Don? Of what use, if any, is it to be reminded of that part of me?
What about all the other stuff in the boxes of memories? There were posters, magazines, drawings, trinkets, and other memorabilia about my freestyle biking days. It was a major part of my identity as a 7th through 10th grader. There were only a few of us in Amery. I was not the first (that was the ever-cool Aric), but my brother and I were 2nd and 3rd in the whole damn town. It gave our lives meaning in a way. We were doing our own thing. We were different, and in our eyes, cool. We sought our own path. I like to think that my freestyle biking, skateboarding, and interest in underground music all played a significant part in who I am today. So looking at all these old pictures, do I need to keep them? Will I forget what it was like to feel part of a new revolution? Am I still the kid riding on a quarter pipe in his back yard? Am I still like the kid who spent hours trying to master the elusive "walk around" trick (something I never did completely learn)?
The music magazines were plentiful. I was really in to music. I'm not sure where the love came from. My parents were mildly into music, but they were certainly not in to current rock music (maybe that was a good thing) and didn't have much influence on what I ended up getting in to (unless my tastes were a rebellion against theirs). Rolling Stone, Harvest Rock Syndicate, True Tunes News, Long's Music Catalog, New Route, letters from people in bands, lyric sheets, concert posters by the dozen, advertisements, even long cardboard cd boxes, they were all there. Most of it got pitched. I can't store 15-year-old magazines forever. But as I was debating pitching some of the Harvest Rock Syndicates, I thumbed through them. Here were reviews of Da's Darn Floor Big Bite, L.S.U.'s Shaded Pain, Undercover's last live album before they broke up (before they later got back together...) and on and on. These albums really shaped my spirituality as a high schooler. My world was expanded. Here were people of faith being real, honest, and singing about life as a spiritual human, and not just as a cheerleading church goer. This stuff contained struggle and pain (the Choir's "Sad Face" being an all-time favorite), something not always publicly exposed in some of the Christian families I was around. So, this music and the writing about it played a significant role in shaping who I am. I decided to keep some of those magazines. I think when I dig them out again in another 10 years it will be good to once again be reminded of that.
What about some of the painful memories? I don't have many, but I certainly have one. It was either in one of my yearbooks or school newspapers that I saw a photo of my 7th or 8th grade choir giving a concert. Looking at the picture, the memories came rushing back. There I was standing next to my friend Scott, in front of another friend Bryan, but just behind me and off to the side were the two Jeff's. Jeff Jensen and Jeff Conley. They were popular, fairly intelligent, and super athletic. They were bigger than most of us. They excelled at sports. And they were even good singers. But they sure liked to pick on me. You know how kids are. Even I feel eternally guilty for calling one of my friends "thunder thighs" because she was a little heavy. She still gives me flak about it today. So I know how it goes, but these guys really had it in for me. My hair was curly and they liked to make fun of that. They also like to pinch the hair on my neck and give it a pull. I don't remember if they made fun of my then-chubbiness, but it's certainly possible.
This had the end result of me always being on edge while in choir. I also felt uneasy whenever they were around, even though we were on the same basketball and baseball teams. And it probably went a ways towards making me both yearn for and distrust the never-attainable state of "popular kid." I was well liked enough and certainly had friends, but was never in the cream of the popular crop. At any rate, those two years in choir also played a role in shaping my personality. So.... keep the newspaper or throw it? Am I still that scared little kid? Do I want to feel that way again or do I want to forget it? Should I try to remember and learn from that experience? I'm pretty sure that the choir experience worked hand in hand with my interest in freestyle biking, skateboarding, and lesser-known music to make me want to find meaning in things that were just off the beaten path.
Like I said, it's really been a trip. And I haven't even mentioned the other couple aspects that really have touched me while going over this stuff (in short, the overwhelming love and support of my family and church; and the unbelievable effort that my now-memory-challenged, fading grandmother exhibited towards us grandkids). As I write, the recycling has been picked up for the day, and with it, a hell of a lot of my entire documented life. I hope I saved the right stuff.
Donny and Brian, Catholic Church parking lot across the street from their house.
Oh, for more old pics that I found see HERE.