Thumbing through memories

Cleaning out four file drawers was something I’d been thinking of doing even before moving into this house. That was five years ago. But the contents of the file drawers were very usable, and the drawers worked, so it was an easy task to put off. It was the old “out of sight, out of mind” approach.

It was a good task for last week’s snow day.

I combed through every piece of paper in every file folder in the four file drawers, which took a whole afternoon. When I was finished, the floor had a huge pile of rejected debris. It looked like I had accomplished something.

Reading through all those files was a trip down memory lane and probably why it took me the whole afternoon. About half the files were from the years when I did a lot of magazine writing, and I even came across the check stub from the very first article I ever sold to a magazine back in 1984. Not a large sum, yet an important piece of paper I had to keep.

My files included file folders full of originals and copies of articles. It was fun to flip through those articles, to remember again the places I went and the people I visited with to do those articles.

I marveled once again at how kind people were to me then. Not only did many of them agree to the blind phone call request from a stranger to do an interview so I could write an article, they graciously welcomed me into their homes and shared some time.

It’s not news that there’s a lot of really interesting folks out there, which I discovered time and time again. And some are just eccentric, like the woman who was late meeting me at her office because her parakeet, she told me, was sickly, and she had to stay at home that morning to wait for him to die. Once we were together, she offered me some natural coffee that was made from wheat. Never one to turn down a morning cup of joe, I had a cup.

Let me tell you to beware of such a brew. It tasted like a mud puddle looks.

Another time, I shared cups of (real) coffee around a kitchen table on a western Iowa farm. Partway through, a hired man burst into the kitchen announcing that “whoever owns that maroon car out there has a flat tire.” Sure enough, it was my car. Before I was finished in the kitchen, though, he had moved my car into his shop, changed the tire, and had it parked back in the driveway.

I met many artists of all types, creative folks who painted or sewed, built violins or guitars, wrote poetry or prose, raised dogs or cattle or kids or orchids, cooked with dandelions or ostrich, collected everything from haymow rope tracks to license plates, preserved memories under glass or in albums. All of them helped me connect a little more with my own creativity.

I was always humbled by stories I did about volunteers for a plethora of causes, the type of folks who devoted themselves to helping make their communities and their counties and even our country a little better. Such people always made me feel like I could somehow be less self-centered.

Most of these articles were for Iowa magazines and about Iowa folks. I didn’t always realize it at the time, but now I know it made me proud to share a state with them.