After years in boxes, my overseas’ life emerged from hiding in the attic and has been unfolding before me.
Since my mom’s October, 2019 announcement of a newly purchased house several streets away, the dread of clearing out my things has been looming over me. Diaries, saved letters, pictures, slides, published articles and sentimental items from Germany, Tunisia, Japan, Taiwan and China awaited re-discovery, then decisions on pitching or saving, keeping or giving away.
How does one begin with 40 years of documented adventures and memories?
This blast from the past was to have lasted one month. I had planned to catalog my journals and things by country and date during my Chinese New Year break as a college teacher with the Amity Foundation at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. What was to be a 4-week, madly rushed, whirlwind task has now morphed into 5 months and most likely a few more added to that. Due to the virus, I am still blocked from returning to China until the Chinese government decides to re-activate visas and allow foreigners to return.
That has left me with plenty of time to get into high gear and finally deal with all those vividly recorded recollections from years ago to the present.
Inundated with Emails
The range of my life story is staggering. I knew I had a lot but this much?!!
I have notebook upon notebook of handwritten journals, airmail letters sent to my parents which my mom squirreled away, published essays of numerous revealing overseas’ experiences, newspaper articles I wrote for local papers, correspondence from former students who wrote to me about their lives and hundreds of pictures either in tidy photo albums (some labeled, others not) or barely seen and still in their just-developed envelopes.
Quite a few of these my mom has on a thumb drive, along with her parents’ war letters, some of which I’ve shared on this website. Thanks to my high school classmate, Pam, who spent hours upon hours, months upon months, of scanning a majority of those into my mom’s computer, we now have the ability to pull up quite a few on a computer screen without the worry of well-worn pages shredding, getting soiled or destroyed as they are read or moved about.
Years of printed emails
Most impressive in this library of life, I would have to say, are the 3-ring binders which my mother kept of all my emails, printed out from 1997 – 2020. These she hole-punched and labeled, beginning from my 3-month orientation with the United Methodist GBGM to my 3 years in Taiwan (1998-2001) to my 22 years in China Mainland with the Amity Foundation (1991-94, 2001- 2020).
The printed version of all these emails was done for my dad’s benefit.
After my mom bought her first computer, she taught herself how to use it. But my dad became frustrated by the new technology. Things would disappear for no reason. Blinking cursors were hard for him to see. The entire concept of clicking on icons was beyond him. The mouse was especially problematic. He spent most of his time aggressively punching the mouse, as you would a type-writer key, instead of tapping on it gently. The result was all sorts of strange things happening on the computer screen which only confused and annoyed him further.
My poor dad! He completely gave up.
In order for my father to share my news with his wife, without the frustration of computer use, my mom printed out all my emails for him to read. After he finished, she hole-punched every page and placed them all into a 3-ring binder, in the order they had been received.
Little did she know her steadfast diligence in doing this on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day as I often sent morning and evening reports from China, would accumulate and span decades. The result was 50+ 3-ring binders (which she cataloged chroneologically) continuing to take up shelf upon shelf space in the upstairs make-shift library room. Even long after my father died, she continued her habit of email printing, hole-punching and inserting until this past January 9, which was my last electronic report sent from a Chongqing hotel room early morning before my departure to the States.
Time on My hands
My China updates, however, have currently halted. With the Covid-19 situation keeping me here in the States, there have been no emails to my mom, no more 3-ring binder additions, no more details of my life overseas.
The hiatus in entries has allowed me to get busy on compiling all those emails into labeled booklets to get rid of the cumbersome thick plastic binders.
It took me several days but I got them done, after which into the bins they went. . . .
and over to my mom’s new house, carried into the well-sealed garage, where they are now stacked neatly onto shelves.
I must say it’s a bit astounding to see my life, from grade school onward, lined up against a single wall. Wow. All those years of sentimental things, treasured collections, nostalgic photos, and detailed written experiences of my childhood and adulthood, stuffed into 16 storage bins. I expect no one will care much for all this long after I’m gone but, just the same, I’m keeping the entire kit and caboodle, at least until my next weeding out.
Still patiently hangin’ in there until my China return,
Connie in Illinois
So glad you have had the time to sort/organize all these stories from your adventures. One never knows what will come, but stories for sharing and comparisons of China in the early 90’s and today….your impressions. I’ve kept my emails sent from China, as well, only 3 years worth. Perhaps I, too, should print mine out……for easy of reading and organizing….at least get onto a thumb drive. It will be nice for you to be able to help your mom with the move to her new digs, I think. Who is buying your home of many years……a family, I hope.