Dennis Marek: Don’t leave the clutter for your kids
As we age, we collect. Worse than that, we don’t often cull. So, if something were to happen to us, after the second spouse passing, kids are left to clean up our lives. There is an old military saying that three moves make it like a fire. Each time a military family got a new assignment, culling took place. Those families often moved every three years, so clutter was not a problem.
We are getting ready to leave the big house. Downsizing is somewhat of a misnomer. If you downsize, shouldn’t the next dwelling cost less money? Not happening. But a smaller space does mean it is time to reduce the clutter.
As I sat down to thin personal papers, I was amazed at what I had amassed. My father was a professional photographer (the first the Daily Journal had), and my mother was a writer. What I hadn’t realized was my mother had collected history on our families, letters from relatives, clippings from newspapers and even some timely articles.
My father and mother, before retiring, spent several weeks in Spain on several occasions. Later, they retired, in part, to the beaches of Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula, Mexico. I discovered my dad had left me many of his photographs, negatives from his years as a black-and-white photojournalist, and 35mm slides in the hundreds. He loved Mexico, where he fished with the natives and gave them most of the fish he caught. Thus, there were a lot of pictures of fishing and what they caught, along with beautiful landscape photos.
In the Spain group were at least 200 slides of bullfights, several of the running of the bulls in Pamplona (I did not recall his being there for that one-day-per-year event). He clearly took these shots from safely above the crowd. There were also pictures of children, old couples, men picking grapes and more beautiful scenic shots of that country. I carefully culled those many slides to several dozen.
Then, the most interesting part started. I began reading letters my mother had saved. Many were to and from relatives. Several were from or to my Uncle David Bruce, the actor of the 1940-50s. One letter was to his sister, my aunt, telling her how he had just signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. The ironic part of the letter, however, was he had heard she was not feeling well, and he hoped she was getting better. In fact, she had developed the first signs of a brain tumor that would take her life within the year.
When I was a child, my paternal grandparents retired to Montague, Mich. From age 2 on, I spent entire summers with them, only a block from Lake Michigan. I remember by the entrance to our favorite beach was an inn and restaurant called the Old Channel Inn, as it was quite near the channel that let boats onto Lake Michigan from White Lake. I also learned a bottle of soda was free if you said, “Charge it.” Only years later did I find out the true definition of that phrase, and my grandfather paid up at the end of the week. My wife and I have spent many weekends in the area and often have eaten at today’s Old Channel Inn. We have met the owner and his wife.
The second irony was in another letter from my mother to my maternal grandfather. He was a restaurateur in Kankakee for years on North Schuyler. The letter, dated in 1940, said she had learned there was a restaurant for sale in Montague, and if he ever thought of a change of location, the Old Channel Inn was for sale. I never knew any of that. He hadn’t taken the opportunity and had kept his restaurant until the early 1950s.
One other interesting find was the negatives. Old, black-and-white negatives that were a bit hard to view, but fortunately, some had writing on the envelopes that helped identify the subject matter. One dated 1947 was a picture of two golfers standing by a pin in traditional 1940s attire. The photo identified the two. My father and a man named Leo Massa. I heard the stories from my dad that he and Leo had great competitive golf matches once my dad arrived in Kankakee after the war. I knew they were friends and between the two of them, local championships went to no one else.
I had my friend, David Merkle, try to print a picture from the negative, as local camera shops no longer will print these. He succeeded in re-creating a print of these two men and then sent it to my phone. The wonders of today. I then went to the Kankakee Country Club and viewed the Club Championship trophy. From 1946-51 no one but the two of them won that award. To be honest, Leo won a couple more than my dad. I will cherish that picture and might make it the center of the Marek Junior County Golf Tournament poster this year.
So, as we age, don’t wait. Go dig into that history for two reasons. First, what a ball it was to find these things from the past. And second, would my kids ever take the time to sift through all this history or only pitch “Dad’s clutter?’’