Today I found myself purging the files from the research I did for What They Saved. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but today I felt I absolutely had to. Only when I had jettisoned fifty pounds of paper, did I realize that today was the 25th anniversary of my father’s funeral. He died on Bloomsday in 1989 and was buried on Father’s Day.
Among the folders filled with the research I had done for the memoir, my quest to uncover the history of his side of the family, was a cache of quotations, handwritten, typed, and glued from newspaper clippings, mostly on index 3X5 cards, that he had saved, and that I then saved, too.
For the longest time I could not figure out what purpose these cards had served for him. Were they quotations for his law briefs? Presumably those from Oliver Wendell Holmes were. Interesting vocabulary: Serendipity “created by Horace Walpole circa 1754 after he had read a nice fairy tale called “Three Princes of Serendip.” Sentiments that caught his fancy? Finally, I saw that quite a few of the cards were dated from 1946 and 1947, when my father had returned to finish his B.A. at City College. He had been practicing as a lawyer for over a decade, as one could do in those days, minus the B.A. But clearly he wanted the degree, and studied for it successfully so that he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa (he saved the clipping from that honor, too).
If the index cards helped him study for exams, the wisdom they distilled seemed to carry him through life, since they all express the kind of positive, self-help thinking he always tried to convince me would make me a less miserable person (they did not succeed, but he never stopped trying).
From How Never to Be Tired (1944): “Mental work cannot cause fatigue.” From A College Text Book of Hygiene. “The prevention of worry reduces itself, first to realizing that at its base is fear of failure or disaster…”
What can I say? I was a slow learner.
There’s a black and white snapshot of my father sitting at a card table on the rooftop of the building my parents lived in, with what looks like paper work spread out in front of him. The snapshot is not dated. But because it was included with the packet of index cards, I’m guessing that my father had gone to the roof to study–he loved the sun–and get away from his wife and daughters. He looks very happy.
I miss him, bromides and all.