With three days left in my three-week visit home in August, my mother mentioned that there was a bag full of my documents in a cupboard in my room. So, on a rainy afternoon, I sat on the floor and weeded through evidence of what I was doing during the Reagan Administration (1981-1989).
One revelation was that my handwriting has not really deteriorated in the past 20-odd years: it’s just bad in a different way. Most of the papers were just old notes from lectures at Dalhousie University, nothing really gripping. One pleasant surprise was a cache of philosophy homework from my freshman year which showed that I wasn’t as confused and distracted as I remember being (that came later). A less pleasant surprise was a German test with the comment “Das ist NICHT GUT!” written on the front page in red. Letters from people I no longer recall (discarded), cards from people no longer alive (carefully put away), correspondence from people I still know (some returned for posterity– and space), these are what really brought the passage of time home to me. Also included were drawings and cartoons which, surprisingly, weren’t bad, and poetry which, cringingly, was. My father has a shredder: I got to work. Not even the garbage men were going to laugh at my doggerel.
What I saved was packed in a few shoe boxes and put back in the cupboard. So much for that eight years. Of course, I used to write a lot of letters back then, and I guess a few of them are in attics around Canada (although I can think of a few that I hope were used to start campfires or something – God forbid anyone would read them now!). The subsequent years of correspondence, especially the past seven, wouldn’t amount to much: it’s almost all e-mail, much of it lost in countless unbacked-up crashes. I don’t think I’m unique in that respect. I wonder what future historians will have to go on when they come to research anyone’s life, post-1995 or so?