Everyday I look at it differently and try to make sense of it all, the stacks of boxes and files, the neatly organized and voluminous paperwork that made my father’s meager estate uniquely his own.
He had been working on a history of the military service of his family members. Seeking out information on deployments and transcribing letters from WWII, an ambitious project for anyone. He didn’t get to finish.
But from there it veered off track. I knew he was a strict adherent to protocol, I expected to find good record keeping and a kind of “forms in triplicate” approach to financial matters. I dismissed and dumped boxes of files going back in time to the 60’s, 70’s, employment records, tax returns back to the nineties, the bank statements and balanced checkbooks too. I even found the dozens of “Day-Timers”, completed years, neatly lined up in their little plastic boxes kind of endearing.
I knew he printed out emails, older people do that, heck even I’ve been guilty a few times. Yet he printed out both the sent and replied, reams of them. And here I thought he always went to his desk phone so he could sit while we talked, it turned out he was taking copious notes of every phone call, along with his talking points. All printed out. He did this for all of us, his friends, his family. It was there in our files. Extensive files.
Then I found the pages and pages, small pads of papers, notebook binders, records of his everyday life. What he had for breakfast, a squirrel he saw outside the window, mundane occurrences and then the sad, single word, “depressed” sandwiched in between jotted doctor appointments and choir practice times, long tomes of scratchy handwriting. People journal, I told myself. Samuel Pepys had nothing on my dad.
It was the lists that finally got me. List of what he ate every day for years. Finally it was the “mail log” that brought me to tears, every piece of mail, even the ads and junk received, all typed up and categorized by day, month and year.
It would take a long time to describe him so that you could join in and help solve the mystery of this need to put it all in writing. Suffice it to say he had friends and a social life, in fact the church was packed for his funeral, and yet he toiled at this solitary labor of documenting every single aspect of his life.
One day it seems obsessive, the next day I find it quaint, almost funny, as if he was leaving evidence for future archaeologists, in case the Internet broke. I go back and forth, was it self-absorption or wresting control of his life? Other times I diagnose Asperger’s or OCD. I can’t spend the time to read it all, letting it steal my hours as it did his in the doing. I throw away boxes and boxes, saving bundles of pages here and there. They sit in a box under my bed where I can pull them out, one or two to peruse, a small easily digested dose at a time.
At times I tell myself he felt gratitude, that his life and his family were so important to him he was compelled to make note of it all. And I convince myself for a while that it was all about love.