Richard Friedlander: The Box of Forgotten Memory

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Richard Friedlander goes on a mission to get rid of junk in the attic, and discovers a surprising past he’d long ago forgotten.

Well, I finally did it.

Not only had I, at long last, resolved to rid the loft of most of the books gathering dust there for 20 years, but I had actually climbed the ladder to begin the expulsion.

And then, along with the books, I found this box. I should have left it and gone ahead with the evictions, but of course, I didn’t. “Should” has never been a way of getting my attention.

The first thing to emerge was the yellowing program from my college graduation. Nothing personal about it. Not even my name. Out. Next, a copy of a front-page article from the New York Times, dated September 17, 1931, detailing how my father was arrested for trying to smuggle 8,000 immigrants in from Canada. A conversation piece, maybe, but in fact, no big deal. Next, two poems I’d written, published in my junior high school’s mimeographed newsletter. In one, I praised the Statue of Liberty for its golden promise. The other was an ode to an imaginary coal miner, Joe Anthracite. Neither presaged a challenger to Willie the Shakes.


No harm done. I should have stopped there, but I’ve already told you about “should”.

It seems that my mother had saved every piece of mail I had ever sent her, including penny postcards from summer camp. But what blew me away was that except for those compulsory epistles, the rest of my correspondence was chock-a-block with real, honest-to-God affection. I can’t remember ever telling my mother I loved her in person. I had once even threatened to have her committed. How had this happened? Most of the letters had come from a distance. Some from halfway around the world. Maybe it was just absence.

Nevertheless, there it was. “I love you.” Were these letters worth saving? I felt them glaring at me. Compared to this, bidding the books “adios” was a piece of cake.

I returned the letters to the box, left it open, and left the loft. As a wise Russian once said, “If it’s worth doing, there will be time to do it. If you don’t do it, it wasn’t worth doing.”

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is an East Bay actor and mediator.