Yesterday I joined three colleagues in a foray to our campus storage unit to retrieve some old reunion souvenirs for some of this year's classes. It had been about two years since I'd gone over there last, and I was . . . I was surprised to find that three or four aisles of rolling shelves were labeled with my name. I was certainly not responsible for all that stuff! But I was a little horrified to see how much of what was there - so much of this old stuff - I recognized from when it was new. A decaying box of white ceramic coasters featuring campus views: ~25 years old now, but Original Boss had a set in his office, when I suppose they were given to him as a gift. (I could have signed the receipt when they were delivered ~25 years ago.) Stacks of reunion books. Names of staffers from 20 years ago, marked in fading ink on crumbling cardboard. Even seeing how we did (or didn't) print mailing labels is a history of office life.
I don't think my name needs to be applied to all this. But I have only myself to blame. Everyone knows I value what is old. But I still keep thinking of old as something before my life began. Something from the 1970s can't be old, can it? (I concede the 1960s can be old. Three years ago I was stunned at our Pops concert, during a Beatles medley, to realize that now the Beatles is Grandpa's music.)
How did I identify the box I was looking for (which was only five years old)? By the large name I'd marked on the side of the box, the name of our hotel contact of the period, who received them to distribute at an event; she hasn't been at that property in about four years. Who else would know that?
While this is hardly the time for poignancy, seeing a small stack of reunion books for the Class of 1943 (will any of them stagger in for a 75th reunion next year?) brought home for me how much our institution has changed. Because of course I've been around long enough to have known and worked with some '43ers (C******** M****** was such a gentleman), and I remember well the WWII generation of white men (it was always almost all white men) and how they interacted with each other and with the staff. With the former it could be a lot of good-natured roaring (you know what it's like to see a favorite old friend after many years).
With the staff it could be a flipped coin of Courtesy or Irascibility. There were gents we could count on to visit the office annually to request a course catalog, or to call on a higher-up, and they'd remember us. I remember the courtesy, and the irascibility. And worse sometimes: racism, sexism, homophobia. The casual grilling about my background and education from one particular old man (come to think of it, I think he was a '43) to make sure I was one of Their Sort. An appalling letter with racist slurs prompted by something as trivial as a wrong mailing address.
At last year's volunteer conference a favorite volunteer expressed surprise about someone who was "always" there who couldn't make it. That person was now quite aged and not in the best of health. But that comment made me think about how "always" has its cycles, too. At my first of these conferences in 1990, the Class of 1940 had just celebrated its 50th reunion, and the Class of 2016 had not yet been born. I can safely say that no one from 1940 made it to last year's conference.
Looking at all this detritus, all this old stuff, I can't believe I've been around long enough to remember it - and grateful that at least I'm aging better than those cardboard boxes.