Found in an Unfiled Pile

Lately I have been doing some serious rearranging of stuff. Redecorating it isn’t, because I never decorated in the first place. I rarely rearrange either, because in my studio apartment there’s pretty much only one arrangement that accommodates all my stuff. I did some rearranging three years ago in preparation for Tam Lin’s arrival, so I could set up again the crate that Trav hadn’t used in years.

My multimedia gizmo

More recently, like a little over a year ago, I acquired a handsome gizmo that played not only CDs and cassettes but records. After setting it up — an adventure recounted in “Recovering Musical Treasure” — I had to drag my formidable LP collection out of the closet. It hasn’t really got a new home yet, so it continues to take up a fair amount of floor space.

The latest rearranging has been prompted by a development that I’ll describe in detail in my Write Through It blog, but in brief — I’m now leasing the first-floor space that my second-floor studio apartment sits on top off, and before long I’m going to be offering writing workshops in it.

I’m having more fun than I expected setting it up. Partly this involves buying stuff — so far a rug from Overstock, an easy chair and ottoman from MV Stuff 4 Sale, and the chair I brought home this afternoon from Chicken Alley (the local thrift shop) — but it also involves moving stuff from my apartment down to the new space.

Which brings me around, believe it or not, to the subject of this blog post. Among the stuff I moved downstairs were two of my three venerable file cabinets. Wrangling file cabinets, even two-drawer file cabinets, down stairs is a hassle. They’re heavy and they’re bulky, but I managed to do it solo without either denting the wall or breaking an ankle. The really big challenge has been going through the great pile of paper that had accumulated on top of them. My computer files are very well organized. My paper files? I never get around to filing anything. I just throw stuff on the pile. So far I’ve found Comcast bills going back to 2014 (all marked “paid”), style sheets from editing and proofreading jobs whose titles ring no bells whatsoever, and correspondence from my father, who died in August 2008.

I’ve also found clips of op-eds I wrote, a Vineyard Gazette article about when I ran for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in 2012 (I lost, but I came very close), condolence cards from when Rhodry died in 2008 and when Travvy died in 2019, and several half-used-up yellow pads with my handwriting on them.

Including this one, which is the real subject of this blog post. (Honest!) The first line tells me that I wrote it on February 28, 1997. Here goes:

My mother died a year ago today, at around 8 pm. My sister and I were hoping she’d hang in till the 29th, because Feb. 29 is definitely more cool than Feb. 28 or March 1, and besides you don’t have to think about it much except every 4 years. She was born on Oct. 31 and I hate to say it but that was probably the most interesting thing about her.* Anyway I got down to working on a rewrite of what is currently Chapter 3 of the novel,** then Nancy Luedeman*** dropped by. She’s been going through Mary’s papers — Mary died on Oct. 28 — and found a folder with copies of poems and some letters I’d sent Mary before our relationship went the way of most of Mary’s mentor-protégée relationships — she trashed me in public then wondered why I had a problem dealing w/ her. Nancy’s been going through papers — not only Mary’s but those of Mary’s late husband Edd (who)**** died maybe a year ago and those of Mary’s parents, who died in the mid-60s. Nancy said there were sometimes when a bonfire seemed the only solution and I had to say I completely agreed.

Editorial comments (because you knew I couldn’t leave well enough alone):

* Not fair and not true. My mother was baptized Joan but was known her whole life as Chiquita because she was born in Mexico City (her father was in the Consular Service) and weighed 10 pounds at birth, whereupon the attending nurse reportedly exclaimed “¡Ay, que chiquita!” The name stuck. That’s at least as interesting as being born on Halloween.

** This eventually became The Mud of the Place.

*** I was living in the guest house at the Wooden Tent at the time, where people were always stopping by, usually to see Kathy in her adjacent photography studio, but I knew most of them so they’d often visit me too. Mary is Mary Payne, Nancy’s longtime partner and the founder of Island Theatre Workshop. Loooong story . . . Nancy died in 2010. Her Gazette obituary was also in The Pile. The bit about the bonfire cracked me up. It also reminded me of “The Lapsed Archivist Attends a Housecleaning,” a poem I wrote ca. 1988 after Mary hired me to help clean and paint a room she was getting ready to rent out. Some themes keep coming back because they never go away.

**** I have no idea why I put those parentheses around “who,” but there they are.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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