The Johnny Cash Approach

I wonder what made 2004 “The Year of the Last Will and Testament” for me. I met with a lawyer and made a will. It seemed prudent; I owned a home. A will can be easily created using a form from the internet or a piece of paper. Have it witnessed by two or three witnesses and a notary public and the document is complete and legal. Without children and assets, I may not need a will anymore, since the life insurance I carry is a “pay-on-death” situation. My beneficiaries are clearly documented.

A copy is at the lawyer’s office and another copy is in a “safe place.” My parents have a copy, too. Be it remembered that Julie-Ann Baumer has a will!

It’s a standard document, except for the second item, which says “I give, devise and bequeath all of my personal papers, letters and writings to my friend Samantha Van Hopper, of XYZ, Maine, if she survives me.”

I’ve got some bad news for Samantha. I haven’t been making much progress organizing and cataloguing my personal papers. I still have my diaries from third grade, the journals from high school and college, and the papers I wrote for my Victorian literature class. Even though I finally threw out my Journalism 410 project and a blurry picture of a guy I met at a club called “The Tree” in Portland, there are still a lot of papers to organize in the event that Samantha Van Hopper survives me.

How do I decide what is important and worth keeping? Is any of it worthy of a box at the Lisbon Historical Society? It’s not as if I’m a famous author. Still, every day, I nibble away at the boxes of paper, one piece at a time. There’s always something funny, heartwarming, or sad.

Just yesterday, I found a “Prayer to St. Jude” I was given when I worked part-time at Jordan Marsh in the Maine Mall during the late Eighties. It was the gift of a well-dressed neurotic, shopaholic who worked at the store to support her habit. I wonder what was so hopeless in my life at that time that I considered reaching out to St. Jude.

I also found an outline for a newsletter I was planning in the early Nineties. This was during my “party-throwing” period and it seemed like I had a huge circle of friends which would only expand through the publication of a gossipy newsletter. The purpose of the newsletter was “the advancement of the world as it could be.” Apparently, I thought it was important to capture the zeitgeist of a certain Portland, Maine suburban subculture in writing. Somewhere in the masthead, it would say “A newsletter by me, for you, about us. What we’re doing, things that are important to us, and whatever else would make the afternoon mail a bit brighter.”

Oh, the ego!

I further expanded my vision with the bold statement “My mission on earth, I’ve decided, is to encourage more letter writing, more cocktail parties, and the use of the cloth napkin.”

The first issue would include a pompous announcement of my “at home” evenings. Here’s what I wrote:

“As you may know, I have disposed of my answering machine. Although it may be resurrected prior to the holidays (to accept RSVP’s for my Christmas party), I’ve decided to make Thursday evenings, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. my ‘at home’ evenings. You can depend on reaching me during this time. Of course, you may call our house at any time and any day, but we are in and out so much that it may be frustrating. Just remember that Thursday nights are a guarantee that I’ll be there!”

Good grief. Samantha Van Hopper will be relieved to know that those arrogant little scraps of paper have found their way into the trash.

It’s not all embarrassing egotistical moments, though. I found a card from my old friend T Bone when she moved away to Colorado in 1992. She was visiting Maine a few weeks ago and it was good to see her. Much has changed in both of our lives since that heart-felt note. Back then, we were in our twenties and she was embarking on her life’s journey, physical and metaphorical. She said “it takes time and the trip is a long, often dark one.”

I’m going to keep her card in my “1992” folder.

Not everyone likes to spend time in the past like I do. One of my friends confronted me about my habit, pointing out how much more wonderful life is today, in the here and now. She asked me to consider how medical progress and modern pharmaceuticals are keeping us young forever and scientists are finding cures for diseases and maladies from cancer to constipation.

There hasn’t yet been a cure found for my friend T Bone yet, but I’ll keep praying on it. I’m going to bypass St. Jude and go right to the top. And just like Johnny Cash, I’m going to continue assembling something out of all these scraps of paper from the past. It might take a while, but one piece at a time, I’m putting together my own psychobilly Cadillac.

Thanks, friends, for coming along on the ride.

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