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A Case of the Human Condition: I’m a Woman with a — Sprawling — Past

A corsage my sophomore year.

A corsage from my sophomore year in high school. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

The trouble with painting the inside of your closets is — everything has to come out of them.

And then what do you do with all your beloved stuff?

If you’re me, you don’t throw it away.

But what if your beloved stuff is in disarray?

What if your Girl Scout merit badges are mixed in with the portrait of your father’s high school football team and your mother’s baby photos and an old World War II ration book?

My Great-great-grandmother Harlow from Red Wing, Minnesota. C 2009 .F. Newhall

A photo of my mother's great-grandmother Harlow from Red Wing, Minnesota. Walinger Studio photo

If you’re me, you want to impose some order on all your wonderful old belongings. And on your past while you’re at it.

Which takes time. Lots of it.

As a result, ever since we painted the interior of our house last year, all the good stuff I pulled out of our closets has been sprawled around my writing room, taking up space, waiting to be sorted and put away.

Twenty-eight cartons of it. Calling to me.

Finally, yesterday, I did it. I organized my beloved stuff — and my rather extensive past — into twelve tidy, carefully labeled business boxes.

To wit:


Five of the 28 boxes. c 2009 B.F. Newhal

Five of the 28 boxes.Photo 2009 by BF Newhal

“High School Stuff.” A corsage from a high school boyfriend, dried and flattened. My biology class insect collection with butterflies and beetles stuck through with pins. The note from my social studies teacher, “You talk too much.”

“Grandma Falconer.” My great-grandmother’s speech to the Michigan Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

“My year in Heidelberg.” Coasters from a Bier Stube. Train tickets to Paris and Moscow. A telegram from my parents asking why I hadn’t written in two weeks.

A photo of me as a student in Heidelberg. C 2009 B.F. Newhall

A photo of me as a student in Heidelberg. BF Newhall photo

The boxes go on: My years growing up in Detroit.  As a twenty-something in New York City. As a hippie in  San Francisco. As a respectable, hardworking mom.  Everything in a box. Everything in its place.

And nothing, nothing at all, in the trash.


A card welcoming the dear baby me to the family. C 2009 B.F. Newhall

A card welcoming the dear baby me to the family. Photo by BF Newhall







The remains of my high school insect collection. I got an A. C 2009 B.F. Newhall

The remains of my high school insect collection. I got an A. Photo by BF Newhall



  1. Marie MacGillis says:

    This is my favorite post!

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