By: Marlene Oxender
Not long ago, I came across the word “ephemera” on a Facebook scrapbooking page. I looked it up to find it means “something of no lasting significance.”
Paper items such as posters, brochures, and tickets that were originally meant to be discarded after use, but have since become collectibles, would be considered ephemera.
My mother was a writer. She never knew the convenience of typing on a computer and saving her work. Instead, she typed on a manual typewriter and became the keeper of papers.
I, on the other hand, save my work in a document on the computer. After discovering the definition of “ephemera,” I saved it on my computer with the intention of going back to it later.
When my daughters were home for the holidays, they saw a box of my mother’s papers and pointed it out. I asked them if they knew there is a word for the kinds of things their grandmother had saved.
Naturally they asked what the word is, but I had forgotten. So, I told them I didn’t know, but I’d saved it. We laughed.
Later, I found where I had copied and pasted the definition into a document on my computer. I then wrote a little about ephemera and thought I would remember it.
But when I went to my writers’ group and started to tell them the story about the word that means “saved stuff,” it happened again. I couldn’t remember the word.
In my attempt to come up with it, I told them what I did know: It starts with “ephe” and ends with “a.” Of course, our next step was to search the internet and locate the word “ephemera.”
I didn’t know it’s a somewhat common word. I never noticed that the word “ephemeral” is in one of my favorite books. It’s also on a CD I listen to fairly often.
I even found a page about Effie the Ephemerist in a children’s puzzle book I’d ordered as a gift. Who knew these words? Not me.
The countdown to spring weather is upon us, and it’s a time when we read books, work on puzzles, or play board games.
But tucked away in a closet or attic is the box that nearly everyone owns. It’s more fun to refer to boxes of memorabilia as “time capsules” rather than “stuff.” Our boxes contain photos and letters. Children’s artwork. Newspaper clippings. Greeting cards. Papers that are considered ephemera.
Occasionally we open our box and sort through it. We’re reminded of times gone by. When we’re finished reading and sorting, we tend to place the lid on the box and put it back where we found it.
When my brother Stevie, who has Down syndrome, spends time with me, I’ve found one way of keeping him occupied is to let him sort through boxes of my mother’s newspaper clippings. He sorts and then sorts again.
Recently he’s discovered cookbooks with pictures of the prepared food and writes his name on the pages of the food he feels we should make.
My family is now on the lookout for picture books that are of interest to him – things such as babies, animals, and fire trucks. He still looks through old editions of The Baby Times and points out the cuteness.
During our growing-up years, we knew our neighbors. Jeff Greene lived in the small brown house just west of ours. Mom would often ask one of us to carry a plate of food to his home – especially on the holidays.
Though I never went inside his house, I was always happy to carry the plate to his home and knock on the door. I could see that his television was on. I barely remember Jeff’s voice, but I do remember his nod and smile.
I like to hear Stevie talk about Jeff, so I’ll ask him what our neighbor guy’s name was. If he can’t think of Jeff’s name right away, he’ll often give clues.
He’ll describe Jeff as an older guy who smoked cigarettes. Finally, Stevie and I will come up with his name and agree it was “Jeff.”
I found Jeff’s obituary in Mom’s collection of newspaper clippings. Jeff was born in 1909 and passed away at the age of 80 in 1990. His given name was “Firm,” and he had received four bronze stars during World War II.
Stevie has a photo of himself with Dad and Jeff – taken when they were visiting Jeff at the nursing home. The three were laughing out loud when the picture was taken, and it made me wonder what was so funny.
My mother wrote human interest stories, and I wish she had written about Jeff. I’d love to have a photo of him in his younger days. My older siblings remember the cars he’d owned over the years. His dog’s name was “Tootie,” and his brother Milo went by “Shine.”
If I could interview Jeff, I’d ask him where their nicknames came from. I’d ask him about those four bronze stars. I’d ask about his family.
When others tell me they would like to begin writing but don’t know where to start, our neighbors and friends each have a story to tell.
We can help them write their memoire. Residents in nursing homes are typically willing to share, and they love to spend time visiting.
Our life story is a book, and most people see only the cover. They don’t have the chance to read the whole story. There may be lots of critiques along the way.
There are ratings and reviews, but few will know the unique challenges each of us faced. Or the strength it took to do the things we did.
Items we’ve saved in our box may be considered ephemera by definition but are a reminder that the most beautiful things in life are lasting and not material. They are the memories. The feelings. The moments that caused smiles and laughter.
At the end of our life, someone is going to remember the love we shared and the hearts we touched. And if our nickname was “Shine,” they’ll know why.
Marlene Oxender is a writer, speaker, and author. She writes about growing up in the small town of Edgerton, her ten siblings, the memorabilia in her parents’ estate, and her younger brother, Stevie Kimpel, who was born with Down syndrome. Her two recently published books, Picket Fences and Stevie, are available on Amazon.