How My Memorabilia Help Tell My Story

This post will be quite different from my previous ones – for better or worse – and that’s why I’m putting it in the “Random Posts” section on my website.

In my previous post, it was August 1973 and I had just left Southeast Asia and flown away to London. Before starting to talk about that new phase of my life, I want to take a pause and talk about how annoyed I am with myself.

Here I am, writing a memoir about my life using mainly photos and my diaries to tell my stories. But, in April 2020, just one month into our pandemic, I had a flash and I recalled that I have a very big stash of memorabilia tucked away in boxes in a storage locker THAT I HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT – and therefore did not use while writing my previous posts. My immediate thought was that I had missed a big opportunity to add more colour to my writing.

In this post, I’m going to talk about what I discovered in those boxes that I probably hadn’t opened for 40 years. You will learn more about my obsessiveness.

I would like your opinion on whether using what I have discovered will bring added value to my posts or not.

But first I want to review what memorabilia I have already used in telling my stories.

Slides and Photos

You already know that I mostly rely on my collection of old slides and photos to tell my stories. I have already talked about my taking and archiving of photos in previous posts.

As the title of my website “A Gay Man’s Story in Snapshots” makes clear, these slides and photos are a key part of my story telling and they have helped me not only to remember events I’d forgotten but also to bring back the feelings I had at various long ago times in my life and allow me to add literal and figurative colour to my memoir.

Organizing my old slides and taking them from trays into binders
38 slide trays reduced to 16 binders
32 albums and 3 boxes of photos

Diaries and Agendas

My diaries have also played a role in recounting my stories. I continue to amaze myself that I still have them from when I started writing a kind of diary when I was 13 in 1963. At that point, they were mainly a calendar of upcoming events. During my twenties, I began to write more of a traditional diary but the entries were (and still are) mainly fact based with only a smattering of lurid details. But reading them has triggered memories from the past that I have used in telling my stories. In addition, they have helped me remember what took place in what order, giving me a chronology of my life.

Agenda, diaries, calendars: From age 13 (1963) to the present

Letters and postcards

Occasionally, in my posts, I have quoted from letters that I’ve received from others. Certainly, you’ll know that, besides the phone, letters were the way we communicated before the internet. You won’t be surprised that I’ve kept most of my letters from the past and have even spreadsheet-ed (is that a word?) them, organized by who sent them and from where. I reckon that I’ve kept well over 1000 letters and postcards including ones I’ve written that have been returned to me.

Arranging my letters by sender
Letters arranged by sender with a peek at the spreadsheet I created

The reason I received so many letters is because I wrote so many. That’s just what we did – or at least what I did. I loved meeting and keeping in touch with people and letters were how we kept connected.

Reading my diaries, I often see phrases like “wrote postcards this afternoon to Sam and Mom” and “spent evening in writing letters”. When I went on trips, I would take along with me a list of people I wanted to send postcards to while I was away. A huge amount of time was dedicated to this practice.

Obviously my old letters are an invaluable source for writing my posts as they contain information about what I did and how I felt. But I must confess that I am sometimes reluctant to do a deep dive into some correspondence because I fear that it could remind me of periods of my life or relationships that I had with certain people that I don’t want to think about again. Or I don’t want to be reminded of some hurt inflicted on me or by me. I do, though, want to challenge myself to do more of this in the future.

But I should be more positive and say that perhaps a “deep dive” might also rekindle memories of a very positive kind.

Would the time I spent writing and sending letters amount to more or less than the time I now spend on emails and social media connecting with people? My guess is that although the time spent would be around the same for each activity, the number of people I can keep in touch with digitally would be much greater.

There is more to say about aerograms, post office lineups, licking stamps, types of stationery and making the last post but I’ve said enough already.

Address Books

To write letters, you obviously need people’s addresses and we kept them in our address books. These needed to be kept up to date. Especially during my 20s and 30s, when people would be more likely to move homes, cities and countries, it was easy to lose contact with people and there was no simple way to track them down. You could dial 411 for “Information” in Canada/USA or 192 in the old days for “Directory Enquiries” in the UK but if you didn’t have an address and/or if the person’s name was not very unique, you wouldn’t have a chance to find “lost souls”. Now, as you know, finding people from the past and keeping in touch with them is much easier with the internet.

My address books in order: 1968, 1971, 1978, 1984 & 1994 (office)
Same address books now open

I used to have a rule that a name wouldn’t make it into my address book until I’d met up with the person at least three times. So that meant that my one night stands wouldn’t fill up my pages unless we saw each other for more than three dates. More often than not, we would not see each other again. Sometimes their choice, sometimes mine.

When a friend or family member died, I would write “R.I.P.” by their name. This, sadly, became a too common event during the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s and there are very few pages in my address book from that time that do not have a “R.I.P.” by a name.

But, now, as we creep into old age, more deaths occur just as part of life and the “R.I.P.”s are appearing once more, but now they are recorded in my Google Contacts.

Trip Paraphernalia

Finally, after summarizing all those different archival parts from my past, I’m finally getting to the NEW memorabilia that I only recently rediscovered that I’m writing about in this post.

What I found in a storage closet were several boxes full of envelopes – large and small. Each envelope in these boxes, generally speaking, represents one trip I took in the past and each contains maps, guidebooks, tickets, schedules, leaflets, souvenirs, even coins, etc. from that trip.

Boxes of my “Early” and “Later” Trips at the bottom of my storage cupboard
Here are just 7 of close to 100 envelopes found in the boxes

What I have rediscovered is that, clearly, especially in my 20s, I must have never wanted to throw, literally, anything away; from train tickets to movie stubs. During my backpacking travels, this must have been particularly problematic as space was always tight and the weight added up.

What I have now recalled is that I would occasionally send packages containing these bits and pieces to my father in my hometown of Toronto. He kindly put them in envelopes and stored them all for me in the basement of our family home until he put his foot down in the 1990s and asked me to take them away – which I did as slowly as I could! But eventually they all came back into my hands and were put in these boxes that I only recently remembered and rediscovered.

Having found these envelopes a few months ago, I was able to use some of their contents while writing the recent posts on my travels through Southeast Asia. You may have noticed that I started using these ticket stubs, airline boarding passes and random tourist brochures and other ephemera from my collection to add colour and variety to the stories.

Not only did I keep the artefact but I would write on it, describing what it was. Here, for example, are ticket stubs from the films I saw on that Southeast Asia trip with dates, cities and the names of the films and if I went with anyone: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Lost Horizon, The Big Bounce, Wicked, Wicked and what must have been the 1933 King Kong. I may have been backpacking in SE Asia but I kept in touch with Hollywood.

Film Ticket Stubs from 1973 in SE Asia

Below is a slideshow with bits and pieces from just one envelope: bus and airline tickets, entrance coupons, receipts, photos and even a matchbook.

What I also discovered were the meticulous records that I kept of my spending including the cashing of travellers’ cheques, transportation costs and even what I ate.

These are the maps and travel brochures I picked up from my trips through the Pacific region and SE Asia – and kept.

Now imagine that I have this kind of information for the dozens (hundreds?) of trips I have taken over the decades.

Why Did I Do It?

Looking back on this post and at how much I not only collected, but also archived and catalogued from my past, it raises the question of Why Did I Do It? One easy answer is that my Dad collected a huge amount of memorabilia from his own life and I inherited his hoarding gene.

But there’s more. I think that, subconsciously, I felt that if I didn’t keep photos, a map, a leaflet, a train ticket or even coins from a trip, then I would lose my connection to that event. It would somehow disappear as if it never happened. Not only did I want to soak up that experience, but also I wanted to preserve it and that required, somewhere unconsciously in my mind, the necessity to keep all these tangible mementos.

Did I not trust my mind’s ability to keep those memories intact? Did I really need physical artefacts to safeguard my memories? Did I fear that the remembrances would disappear if I didn’t keep the ephemera attached to the events?

Why is the past so important?

Others have questioned why the past is so important to me and I get lectures about how it’s more important to live in the present and looking forward to the future instead of “living in the past”. Well, yes and no. Our present selves are a product of our past and understanding and recognizing how our past influenced and created the persons we are has always been important to me.

It’s just that everyone doesn’t need to be as obsessive about it as I am! And you may be happy to learn that I’m much less obsessive now. I don’t keep movie tickets anymore, for example. Of course, they don’t exist as such anyway.

What I will claim, though, is an advantage of my obsessiveness is that I have had many people tell me how much they appreciate the fact that I did keep these records, especially long-time friends who are happy (usually!) to see photos of themselves from our pasts or letters that they had sent me.

I’m also happy to have recently had archivists and libraries approach me (after somehow finding my posts) and they have asked for permission to use some of the materials and/or have requested that I consider bequeathing my archives to their collections. Now that’s an honour.

I will remind you that, as those archivists and librarians often say, ink and paper are likely to last much longer into the future than digital photos, emails or other data no matter what cloud service they get stored in – or what website they get displayed in. Including mine! Keep those papers!

Note to Self

One advantage of having found this treasure trove is that I can start using the memorabilia in my posts in the future. Aren’t you lucky?

More seriously, I would be very interested to know if you think that these artefacts will, in fact, bring added value to these posts. My very kind Queer Writers Group (who review my posts before I publish them) have cautioned me and said that, although they like the variety and quantity of ephemera I have, what is equally important to them is the words I use to describe what I present to my readers, with the goal of arousing your emotions and feelings. Those feelings can be more important than just adding to the quantity of memorabilia I post. That’s my challenge.

The message is: dwell and reflect rather than just dump more bits and pieces.

What would you say?

28 thoughts on “How My Memorabilia Help Tell My Story

  1. Clifford says:

    Totally get it. I thought I had accumulated a lot over years of travel etc. Until I saw your collection Gregg. Like you, I have some old bus tickets and notes that take me back to various trips. I ditched a lot of things but still have enough to write up recollections in some detail. I love seeing all this ephemera. Thank you for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Peter MacMillan says:

    I’m impressed you were able to collect so much material over the years Gregg. With your amazing memory it’s odd you initially forgot about the boxes in the storage locker. Your find must have brought makes many buried memories. Keep writing as your posts are always interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      Yes, it is strange. It might have been more accurate to say that I knew those boxes were there, but I hadn’t made the connection about how I could have used their contents for my posts.

      Like

  3. Craig Barron says:

    You organize and process, so you’re no hoarder. Fascinating. Artefacts bring us all closer to particular, and for us, neglected, eras. In our own digital and increasingly interdisciplinary era I think you can open up to including more artefacts—perhaps incorporating links.

    And consider the photo essay genre: the photos you’ve just posted could form a narrative on their own (The Curator at Home?). http://carte-blanche.org, publishes photo essays, and I’ve suggested they use Artefacts as a future theme.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Patrick Meausette says:

        Amazing. Gregg. Inspiring. I collect bits and notes like that but not as thoroughly.
        I (need to) go back to the address books sometimes to track someone down.
        I remember living in Germany when phone calls were pricey and mail was essential. My roommate was amazed that I got letters almost daily, and bemused that he got only a few a year (not counting the ones I sent him). My obvious answer is his frustration was that he simply had to write and send mail to get it.
        He started sending postcards and was thrilled at how quickly he too started getting things in our elegant Hamburg post-slot.

        Like

  4. Kenneth L says:

    I’m finally caught up on reading your posts Gregg. Yeah! Your writing about the travels, the kind men you’ve met and the other miscellaneous life bits are such an enjoyable read. I’m very visual, so the photos, graphics and the memorabilia make it a more colourful reading for me. And thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. anexactinglife says:

    I love this post! You have a wonderful archive and I do hope you will leave it to a library or archives. Social history is so often discarded that your trove will be valuable. I have one closet full of memorabilia including calendars and day books, journals, photos, letters, printed emails (early days) and objects such as tickets, itineraries, pamphlets, maps, receipts and lists. The latter group I have arranged by year. I have now been settled for 15 years, but before that, I found my personal history to be a great source of comfort and continuity.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bob Cant says:

    Absolutely fascinating, Gregg! Once upon a time people might have called you a hoarder but now you are an archivist – and it’s good to know that you are appreciated as such. I do think, however, that the man you call ‘my dad’ deserves more of an acknowledgement that that. Perhaps, his name and a photograph. Some parents would have binned your collection without any shame and you are fortunate that he didn’t. I think the relationship between a fictional archivist, his father and the collection of envelopes could be turned into a radio play but that could be your next project.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gregg Blachford says:

    Thanks, Bob, for your feedback. I’m aware that I have given scant attention to my family, especially my parents, in my posts so far. I have a trepidation that I need to better understand. There is lots to say and I need to get it started. Sometime! But you’re right – in the interim at least a photo and a bit more description could have been warranted here.

    I’ll think about that radio play idea! 😁

    Like

    1. Bob Cant says:

      Gregg, I really was making a methodological point about transparency of sources. The how and the when of writing about your family is very much your own choice. And I look forward to reading your next posting, whatever it’s about. B x

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Tyrone Deere says:

    Gregg, Yesterday I wrote a long reply ( but I think it was not posted) telling you how I have collected my own memorabilia all my life. I have kept most letters to me and travel documents etc. I am hoping they will be kept after I die, but probably a lot will be thrown out. I have put most in a couple of plastic boxes. I enjoy reading over the years and events of my life of nearly 80 years. Everyone’s life is different, but perhaps in years ahead someone would find an interest and learn something about how one man lived years ago. Tyrone

    Like

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      Hi Tyrone – That long reply of yours came to me as a private email that I hadn’t answered yet. But thanks for putting it here. Part of the reason for me doing my website is that I hope to preserve some of these artefacts rather than having them thrown out but, like you, I imagine most will be! Unless I get them up here or into archives first. Good luck!

      Like

      1. Tyrone Deere says:

        Dear Gregg,
        Thanks for your reply. Yes, we all like to think our memory will live on. When I was on Thursday Island in 1993 in the Torres Strait I compiled a book mainly from letters etc I found in an archive on the building of a stone Church on Hammond Island. Because it was an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island affair the department emailed me requesting they put the book on the internet. If you are interested to have a look it is called Stone on Stone. So I have some internet immortality.
        The friend I climbed with on Ayer’s Rock in 1972 I met in 1966. We remained good friends all his life. He made major changes twice in his life and when he was in his late forties he married. We visited each other a few times in various places after 1972. I visited him in hospital on his death bed and buried him a few years ago. He was a close friend I was able to share a lot with over the years.
        Before the Coronavirus lockdown, I used to meet up about twice a week with two lots of friends for sharing and coffee. I hope we can resume it again soon. We all need people who are special to us.
        I find your story very interesting. Tyrone

        Like

  9. Margot Riley says:

    Dear Gregg Great post – really enjoyed reading about your collection – you are an archivist/librarians dream – Margot

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    Liked by 1 person

  10. Brock Cummings says:

    Gregg – While your Writers Group friends may balk at the numerous colourful accoutrements to your blogs, this member of your Blog-Reading Group appreciates them. They’re a colourful rest for my eyes and they make the whole package more accessible. Carry on Blogger!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Justin Bengry says:

    This is an amazing collection, Gregg, and as a historian it’s pure gold dust. On a personal level, I’m incredibly envious that you’ve saved all this and carefully recorded so much about your life. I started to do this on my first trips abroad, from which I created scrapbooks with stubs, flyers, even receipts from memorable meals. Without those physical reminders, I’m certain that those memories would have been lost. Quickly, however, I had no space, so have only ever recorded my life to this detail for a couple formative trips. I’ll be excited to live vicariously through your memories of your travels!

    As an aside, I’ve been contemplating a project on queer histories of travel (when I finally finish the pink pound book!) and keeping a note of important collections. I’d be keen to chat further about your collections down the road!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Brian says:

    Gregg, I’m so happy to read that your collection has caught the eye of archivists and librarians, and I’m even happier I’m not the librarian who will deal with it one day! Seriously, you are doing a great service to the future archive by organizing the contents now. It will be so much easier to organize and describe in a finding aid when it’s all so carefully curated by the creator. And what fantastic stories your collection is generating for you, for those of us following your adventures, and for future historians! I look forward to reading more!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      Hi Brian – Thanks very much for your positive comment. I’m happy to read that you are following my adventures, as you say. To be honest, I had to think which “Brian” you were but the Librarian bit and the kind and funny style gave you away. 😍

      Like

  13. Jane Reid says:

    Your collection is overwhelming to me who is the ultimate declutterer. Lol. But, I would think it is a huge assist as you review and write your memoir. Its role from my perspective would be bigger or smaller depending on whether the goal of your memoir is to put accuracy of facts and details over remaining impressions, thoughts and feelings. It could be a very different story depending on the difference between the two. Interesting to write it from both sides. Anyways, it also gets to be your decision. 😀. I do enjoy your posts however you base them.

    Like

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