One of the things I love most about living in Pennsylvania is experiencing all four seasons. They are pronounced, and regardless of how long you’ve lived there, the changes in weather are always remarkable. People comment on the weather constantly, as if the four things it might be doing outside — being warm, cold, wet or dry — are novel any old day.
Whether these remarks are upbeat or grumbly seems to depend on one’s age and if snow is more likely to result in a day off school or a bout of rheumatism. For me, though, a change in the seasons — any season — is a sentimental event. It’s as if nature is poignantly reminding me that time is passing.
A late February warm spell this year inspired me to do some spring cleaning. Lent had just begun, and finally unpacking the boxes and bins I’d piled into my home office when I moved last September sounded like a good penance.
But the task was more than my moody spirit had bargained for. You see, the reason I had been able to forgo unpacking all this stuff is just that: it’s stuff. I haven’t needed any of it over the last six months and I never really will.
I refer to it as my “box of sentimentals.” It’s like a junk drawer, only I have several of them. Stored in one of these containers was a business card from my first “real” job as a writer. My dear college friend was dating my coworker at the time and had swung by our office to visit her. He scribbled a sarcastic note on the back of my card and left it on my desk. When I read it again eleven years later, I thought of those two, of that time in our lives, of their beautiful (and growing) family of five, and smiled.
I found letters and cards and reread them all. I looked over programs from events I’d attended and remembered who I was with when I used each faded movie ticket.
There was a press pass from the 2014 Virginia Gold Cup Races. I saved it because it was the first time I had the thrill of being granted press credentials, and because it’s pretty — a pink and gold ribbon that looks like a prize I’d won at the fair. There was one of those in the box, too: a blue ribbon for a blueberry pie I entered in our local fair when I was about nine. My mother bragged to everyone that I’d won first place, knowing full well I was the only entrant in my category. She was proud nonetheless, and I kept that ribbon because it reminds me of how my mama has always been my biggest fan.
Sigh. I discovered a stack of at least a dozen diaries I diligently kept for years (was I always such a sap?). I flipped through them and was transported back to childhood, to high school, to a semester abroad in college. Little scribbles and scrap doodles from loved ones and some cut-out Christmas present labels with nicknames and jokes on them had been stashed inside the journals for safekeeping. I recognized everyone’s handwriting instantly, and the affection associated with each mini note made my heart swell.
I began organizing correspondence into one pile. Mixed paper things, such as a preserved cocktail napkin from the Knotty Pine Supperclub in Idaho where I was once a regular, were stacked into another. Photos piled up here. Then the hodgepodge of non-paper items — a Winnie the Pooh keychain my brother gave me when we were kids; my seven-year-old dog’s first, teeny-tiny puppy collar; a pair of perfect pinecones my dad gave me during a family vacation in Colorado — began to gain serious ground.
I stood up to find myself surrounded, stuck on a carpeted island in a sea of sentimentals. “What a freak,” I thought, picturing myself as a modern-day Miss Havisham. “And what a mess.”
The setting sun streamed in and drew my attention out the window. I thought instinctively about trying to capture the glorious sunset by snapping a photo, but decided just to enjoy it instead. Is there anything more sentimental than a sunset, I wondered. Breathtaking beauty that transfixes the senses, stirs the soul, and is gone before you know it. Oh… I get it, God. Life is fleeting. “Moth and decay” will destroy my treasures.
And yet — my cluttery collection isn’t treasure per se. No thief would break in to steal the mix CD my twin brother and I listened to while commuting to high school together. To me, these things are manifestations of sweet memories. Just as we recognize the value in preserving ancient art, architecture and traditions, I like to be reminded often of people I love and the precious moments we’ve shared. If my sentimentals connect me to truth, beauty and goodness, can they really be so bad?
The mess was still there and I was trapped in my office. It was getting dark, and, packing away the mementos, I decided to make detachment my Lenten resolution. “For everything there is a season.” Perhaps it’s time I focused more on the present rather than allowing the weather to impose bittersweet feelings about the time that has passed.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s April 2023 World edition.