Sunday, October 10, 2010


(Cross-posted on the June and Art blog…)  June’s sudden hospitalization in 1949 scared everyone.  While she had been to see her doctor previously about her appendicitis symptoms, the doctor had encouraged the family to believe that June’s aches and pains were nothing serious.  He was wrong.  When June entered the hospital, her life was in danger.

About two weeks previous to this, Art had a scare himself.  He hit a deer while driving home at night from June’s on Flanders Road, a 10-minute stretch through a wooded area between Riverhead and Hampton Bays.  The large deer dashed across the road right in front of him and he was unable to brake in time.  The car was nearly totaled, and that’s the reason that his Nash is in the garage for repairs during that first exchange of letters.

You replay things like this in your head.  You wonder:  What might have happened?  The question never goes away, reemerging unexpectedly in the dark of night many years later.  You think how things may have turned out very different.

The letters could have ended here.

* * * * *

I find myself surrounded by fragility.  When I pack the family collection into the car and drive 550 miles back to New Jersey, I keep thinking that all these records are so vulnerable in this one car – one blow-out of a tractor trailer on the road, one drunk driver skidding over the line, and a century’s worth of family records could be lost in minutes.

Paper can be resilient.  As organic material, its eventual deterioration is inevitable, unstoppable, but these papers, artwork, and photographs have the capability of surviving for many decades.  It’s a lost cause to think they’ll survive forever, but it remains a good cause to at least attempt to pass them down to the next generation.  As Jimmy Stewart said in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies), lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for.

Preservation of a family collection is a lost cause worth fighting for.

People are resilient, too.  Sometimes, by miracle or chance, they pull through.  But even if you leave the hospital or get out of the totaled car in good condition, the experience remains a reminder of our extreme vulnerability.  Our lives, relationships, stories, and our family collections are fragile, beautiful, and worth preserving.

© 2010 Lee Price

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