2002.12.04 Waltzing down memory lane with two left feet

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

I don’t know where inner discipline comes from, but I wasn’t blessed with much more than an ounce. I must have been in the wrong line when God was handing it out. It’s a perennial problem of mine: I’m always choosing the wrong line. I’ve begun telling strangers behind me, “You’d be better off picking another line; whichever line I’m in is bound to move slowly.”

There could be only one person in front of me, but it’ll be the person with the most coupons who is writing out a check and hasn’t pre-filled out any of the spaces and will need a price check on an item with no price tag and then will haggle over another item that rang in at the wrong price.

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. I’m talking about my terrible reading habit. I’ve done it again: fallen into a good book and can’t pull myself out when I need to do more pressing things such as get to bed at a decent hour.

It’s so hard to put down a book when I’ve entered the life of the character. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier is the book that’s nabbed me this time. The main character has become a good friend and I need to be there for her, just as I am for my friend Adrienne and she for me.

Putting the book aside during an important passage seems like betrayal. It must be what some people experience when watching soap operas. The characters become so real, if you’re a good friend, you’ll be there to listen.

The only way I can handle my compulsive reading habit is to not read at all, an unwise proposition for someone who works in a library. Part of the reason I never wanted a TV in the house when the kids were growing up was because I didn’t want to become an absent mother, sucked into soap operas. But getting sucked into a book: it’s probably even worse. You’re in your own little world. At least your kids can watch a soap with you.

I tear myself away when it’s time to move a load of laundry along. Pull the dry clothes out, put the wet clothes in, add another load to the washer and then back to the Dive.

On one laundry trip to the basement, a small wooden box glowed at me. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it if it hadn’t been for my brother-in-law, Thom, home visiting for Thanksgiving. He’d spent four hours in his parents’ basement poring over and purging old papers, journals and letters from his past.

Thom’s foray into that territory piqued my interest. I knew that glowing box contained letters from friends written some time during my college years. Like the Dive, it beckoned, and I foolishly answered the call. I discovered 42 letters written by 17 different people from a short span of time—December 1978 to February 1979.

I quickly saw what a mistake this was, how easily time could slip away. And this was just one box! Covering only three months! But, because I have no discipline, I kept reading them and wondering what had become of some of these people and why I hadn’t realized how utterly depressed Pam was, how adrift Barb was, how insightful Greg could be, how unexpectedly funny Kay was even back then:

Jan. 6, 1979: Enclosed you will find a picture I took of Richard and you last year, that I found lying around. I thought you might like to throw darts at it.

I still haven’t got your Christmas present in the mail, and if I don’t get it soon you better buy me something else.

And then there are the mysterious references to events in letters I had written. This one from Adrienne has me particularly perplexed:

Feb. 7, 1979: I, too, cracked up when you wrote about your hair and the plant. I can just see you laughing to yourself in a hat, gloves and scarf while someone tries to check out a book on W.W.II.

I call her at home Monday night to see what she thinks.

“What, are you insane?! Asking me now about something that happened in 1979?!”

We laugh, relive old memories, catch up on current foibles, and 45 minutes later, I notice the time.

“Gosh, how did it get to be 10 o’clock already?” I ask.

“‘Cause you’re doing stupid stuff like reading 25-year-old mail,” she says, and I can see her shaking her head.

“Only Leddy would call and ask me what a letter meant from 1979.”

Only she holds the key, though, for somewhere in her house is a similar box, with my letter to her. But Adrienne has far more discipline than I and it could be years before she succumbs to the urge to reconnect with the past.

I might have more luck matching letters with Debi who was always incredibly organized. I’m eager to know what this was about:

Dec. 21, 1978: Col, your letters are priceless—antiques before their time and very funny to read. Life of a teetotaler, no less! Lori died laughing at that one.

Who the heck is Lori? And what has become of all these other people in my box of letters? I do a search on Yahoo for Greg and when I find his email address, I start to write a note.

And, then, from somewhere deep within, I hear this voice, which sounds a lot like Adrienne, “What, are you insane?!”

I consider the amount of time I’d spend rekindling old friendships, and a surge of sanity overtakes me. I stop writing and trash the letter.

I may not be blessed with much discipline, but at least I’ve been graced with good friends.

    – Dec. 4, 2002 
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