I’m going through boxes of letters and photo albums to see if there’s anything I can get rid of while I’m packing. It’s a bit of an ambush-type project, as I have no idea what’s in these boxes; I’m doing it slowly, in between other packing. Sometimes what I find is hilarious, sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s wonderfully happy. Sometimes I don’t even remember what it is I’m looking at.
Particularly with scrapbooks and photo albums, I’m experiencing an impulse to edit them. Keep the photographs, but oh God, get rid of the gruesomely affected scrapbooks elements! That’s not how archiving works, though, so I leave them alone. Just because I wish I’d been cooler doesn’t mean the record is inaccurate. I was a very cool kid, I think – dorky and a bit elderly and shy, but interested in everything. If my thorough records of my teen years are to be believed, however, I was kind of a dull teenager. Who kept everything.
So I’m not making changes to the record, but there are a lot of things I’m just getting rid of entirely. A separate scrapbook from my year at boarding school that doesn’t really add any additional information to the photo album I’m keeping. A pile of letters from people I traveled with years ago. I found the packet, I recognized what it was, but I had no interest in reading the letters again. This is the move when these things finally go, after getting carted around for the last 6 relocations.
Yesterday I found my photo album from a trip to England the summer I turned 15. I traveled with a group of about 20 other teenagers and we spent most of the summer living on canal boats and traveling through the middle of the country. The cramped quarters and constant ducking into low doorways and never having access to clean laundry would probably make me cry now, but it was hugely fun at 15. We piloted and refueled the boats and operated the locks ourselves; once upon a time, that was a skill I could claim, although I’m sure I wouldn’t remember how to do it now.
When you’re moving around a canal boat, you mainly use the gunwales (the narrow bit around the edge of the boat that Roxanne is standing on in this picture). They’re slippery, and it’s easy to lose your footing. That summer, I distinguished myself by falling into the canal twice. That’s twice more than most people did, and once more than everyone else did. I earned the nickname Floatie. I am here to tell you that an English canal is no place to go for a swim. They may look pretty, but they’re filthy. We once saw a whole dead pig swirling around in the lock water near Birmingham. If you fall in, even in the cleaner midstream water, you need a shower. It’s also really hard to get back on a boat from the water, once you’re off it. The second time I fell in, I lost my glasses. We were about 8 days from coming home and I said I’d just do without them, but a boy named Andy went in after them and actually kept diving in the muddy water until he found them. It was a spectacle miracle. He was kind of an obnoxious jerk and by the end of the summer we’d mostly ostracized him. I remember being profoundly touched that he would take the trouble. I don’t remember your last name anymore, Andy, but thanks for finding my glasses. I’m sorry I was mean to you.