January 2, 2014
Day Two of "The Great 365 Day
Purge of 2014".
Today, I decided to toss all of the
papers I'd saved from college, tucked away in the steamer trunk my
father made me years ago. These papers range in length from ten to a
hundred pages, those larger papers, of course, heavily padded with
tables and graphs, and filled with the awkward, pompous,
overly-intellectual use of "one" rather than "I".
One paper explores the possibility of
exporting an Ohio-made product to Canada. Another, the potential
economic development of a nation in which I conclude, "what
remains to be seen is whether this nation's people are willing to
take the necessary steps towards industrialization." My
"marketing awareness journal" reminded me of the time when
I wanted to be in advertising, writing jingles to convince people to
buy the products I was pushing. But even then, I must have felt some
tug of my future self, a self that knew that to promote a lifestyle
of purchasing was to promote a life of loneliness and
A paper for Corporate Finance, complete
with hand-drawn graphs of stock prices and PE ratios, recommended
investing in clothing company Paul Harris. That company went bankrupt
in 2001. A group project investigated how to market "lite"
syrup. Another group project studied the culture of Saudi Arabia.
I had a paper on the "Chinese
Culture". One on Dante's Inferno. Another I wrote about a
freshman whose mother had died of cancer two weeks before the girl
left for college, each paper hand-written in blue ink.
There was a paper that contained the
typo, "they ass the west," circled by my professor in red
pen, probably noted and left uncorrected in the hopes that the
professor wouldn't pick up on the error: printing costs in the
eighties were high, and, besides, the chances of securing access to a
computer in the college lab were always risky.
Some of the papers are printed on
continuous-feed paper, with tear marks at the top and bottom of every
sheet. Some are on my mother's typing paper. Held to the light, I can
read the watermark:
25% Cotton Fiber USA
The printers I used were either dot
matrix or daisy wheel or made use of a type-ball--a golf-ball sized
device covered with all of the letters and characters necessary to
producing a term paper. Font changes, obviously, weren't an option.
Part of me wants to keep these papers,
to hand them down to my children. But as I scan them, I realize that
I haven't read them in over twenty years and I'm not reading them
now. And so I recycle them: At least ten pounds of paper in all.
As I go through these papers, I wonder
about my decision to go into international business twenty-odd years
ago. Four of us attended the same college at the same time, one mile
away from home. My older sister were already in business, a major she
shared with our mother, who put each of us through school by virtue
of her position at the college. Our middle sister was in
communications. I needed a way to set myself apart.
Having tried and rejected music as a
major; having concluded that English/writing majors were "odd";
having taken Linear Algebra with my mother for a total of two
panic-stricken days before dropping it; having shed tears over
chemistry; having no head at all for dates, I decided upon
Business, yes. But different enough
from my sister's major.
Admittedly an odd choice for someone
who likes to write. But back then, my values were different:
Today, I would advise no investment in
Paul Harris, recommending instead, that buyers put their cash in the
local economy. I wouldn't promote the use of "lite" syrup,
what with its high fructose corn syrup, cellulose gum, sodium
benzoate and sodium hexametaphosphate. I certainly hope I wouldn't
speak in condescension about a nation possibly hoping to hold onto a
shred of its local culture.
Today, I claim to be against big
business. Yet, I wear contact lenses. I drive a car. My houses is
heated with gas. I buy clothes...shoes...furniture...printers. I
claim I'm against big business. But perhaps only when it's convenient
to be so.
Other things in that stack of paperwork
I tossed: A product catalogue from Creative Memories--a scrapbooking
supply company...instructions from my first cell phone (I'm proud to
admit that I got my first cell six years ago and am only on phone
number two, and that, yes, it's a dumb phone)...an old article on
collaboration...and a letter.
August 29, 1983
My ever dearest Kelly,
How are you today, dear? Wish you
are fine and well with your family circle.
I am very happy to hear from you
again. Thanks a lot for remembering me always.
About my summer vacation. I spent it
at home so that I can [sic] help my mother. I would like to greet
your grandmother and brother a happy birthday I am just hoping that
they enjoyed a lot during there [sic] birthday.
Our weather now is so hot and dry
all around. The farmers are very sad for they cannot plant anything.
There is a big shortage of water. That is why we are praying hard for
the rain to come.
Yesterday was my birthday. Mother
prepared some native food and I have my close relatives invited. It
was a big fun. How I wish I have shared you.
I close my letter now, sending you
my loving care.
This letter is from Marifel, one of the
two children my parents sponsored years ago, both girls, both from
the Philippines. Every six months or so, Marifel would write, her
correspondence arriving in a blue- and red-striped airmail envelope.
Inside, we'd find a thin onionskin paper, decorated around the edges
with hand-drawn flowers colored red and yellow and blue. The letters
would always be brief, written in pencil. At the bottom of each
letter the words, "assisted by the worker," appeared in all
As I struggle to rid my life of too
much stuff I don't need...too much stuff I have never needed, this
letter reminds me of people who daily struggle to get enough food and
water, shelter and clothing.
And despite her thanks for remembering
her always, I had
forgotten about this letter; forgotten entirely about Marifel.
I wonder where she is today. I wonder
how she is today.
I wonder if she
married, if she has children, if she has enough to eat.
I wonder if she is
alive, if she survived to adulthood, if she survived the recent
I'm preparing to lock the letter back
into my trunk, when I see at the top, the name of the school Marifel
attended in 1983. And at the very bottom, I have her sponsorship and
I smooth out the paper again. Is it
possible, thirty years later, to reconnect with someone I only knew
I Google Marifel's school and learn
that it's still in operation. I send them an email giving them as
many details as I can, which are few.
After dinner, I return to my trunk for
one last look. Tucked in among Mother's Day cards and letters from my
husband, I find them: Nine more letters from Marifel.
The letters date from 1979 through 1983
and give me a snapshot into Marifel's life: With the five dollars my
parents sent her for her birthday, Marifel's mother bought her a
dress and school supplies; she placed third in the Ati-Atihan
Festival, held in January, her summertime. Marifel only attended
school in the morning and spent afternoons at home doing "house
hold works." Her family had a goat and it was her job every
morning to take the goat to the pasture. Marifel's mother was a
laundress. Her father sold containers of water for fifty centavos,
which is, in today's US dollars, worth one cent. In July, which began
the rainy season, Marifel planted rice with her family. Her school
year started in June. Her resolutions for 1983 were to work harder in
school and to be more respectful and obedient to her elders. In 1983,
her school flooded, making it difficult to learn.
There the letters end. I have no idea
if there were more.
But the letters do contain more clues:
Now, I have Marifel's last name now and her date of birth. Again, I
wonder: Is it possible, thirty years later, to reconnect with someone
I only knew in letters?
I'm about to find out.
Kelly Garriott Waite on Google+
Labels: Consumption, essay, Great 365 Day Purge, resolutions