In one of the last stacks of boxes, on a storage rack high in the garage of my family’s old house in Kahala, one of the ancient boxes contained a surprise–a stack of my old high-school and college yearbooks. At least four years from Honolulu’s University High School, the “Lab School,” and then several years from Whitman College, where I managed to graduate. All dating to the decade of the 1960s. I have no recollection of packing the box, and the handwritten label on the side was done by my mother, so I have to assume that at one point she carefully rescued them from various things that I left at the house, and put them aside for me.
I can probably remember a couple of times over the years that I wanted to check one of the yearbooks in order to refresh my memory about an event, or a teacher, or a classmate. But honestly, that’s been a very rare occurrence.
So now what? What do you do with old yearbooks? What do I do with my own yearbooks?
Judging from what appears to be a vibrant market in old yearbooks, obvious from the results of a quick online search, there are lots of people who dump them or lose them, and then want to replace them at some point.
On the other hand, it’s strange to look back over those decades into the faces of all the young people we were–before the wars, the careers, the bosses good and bad, spouses and families, current and former–and wonder where the time, and seemingly endless opportunities, went.
So I’m back at that question. Stick the box back on a shelf in our house? Donate them as used books, along with all their long-ago teen inscriptions, and hope they aren’t purchased by someone who wants to use them against any of us?
After my dad died, I was surprised to find he had kept his senior yearbook from Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. It’s rich with handwritten notes penned by people now long dead. I searched for names I had heard him speak of, or people who visited my dad in Hawaii later in life. He maintained a strong and life-long bond with a core group of his high school friends which was broken only by death.
I found a few online musings on the question of what to do with these books.
ExperienceProject.com asks, “Why would anyone hand on to their high school yearbook forever?“. Here are a few of the varied answers were suggested.
It’s kind of fun… I guess if you are not very sentimental towards items you had growing up.. there isn’t any reason to keep them.
But think of this.. I always enjoyed seeing my parents yearbooks and old pictures. Even my grandparents. It’s like cave drawings… someone appreciates seeing them later.
That’s a lot of stone tablets to hold on too……lol
Then I found a short essay by blogger and teacher, James F. O’Neil (“What I learned: My high school yearbook“).
Receiving notification of the death of a former teacher, I page through my high school yearbook. The spirits live, as Epstein believes. I was looking to find a picture of one of my “ghost” teachers, to find a picture that might enliven a memory. There he was. His death notice showed him to be thirteen years older than I, both then and now. However, he looked so young in the picture; he was never “old.” (My graduation picture shows me at age 18.)
Opening the pages–still mostly intact after fifty years!–I find pleasure. Calm overtakes me: I see my teachers; I look into the eyes of my classmates. There is something that even thrills me. My youth? All our youth? (Except for those “old” teachers.)
Yes, those memory-filled pages (as trite as it sounds) bring smiles to my face, stories into my mind. And those teachers, those favorites, live on: history, science, Latin, math, music, religion, even Greek and some German.
Yet I could not, however, list them all from memory. When I open the book, however, I visualize and want to tell the stories. I want to recount who did what, what “battles” were fought, who still survives.
A yearbook isn’t simply a book about “years”; it is about life. It has a spiritual life of its own–even though a body has disappeared. Timeless. Though I might age, I am forever young within its pages. These pages contain so much memory of a part of my life–even, perhaps, an incalculable part.
Do you have any of your yearbooks? Did you made a decision at any point to either keep them or give them away? What would you do? And does it matter?