george hancock stefanI recently traveled to the West Coast because we needed to organize our family’s papers. As a family, we have been accumulating papers over 50 years of living in the United States. My sisters are moving to a smaller place, so they invited me to come and help them sort for four days.

Somehow, no paper has ever been thrown away just in case we needed it in the future. So we had bank statements, checks, and insurance papers for our cars. Our parents kept all of our high school and college notebooks, as well as some of our textbooks. We found fifty years of letters, postcards, and church publications.

My sisters and I sat down and devised a plan. By the end of the week, we had reduced the boxes to about one tenth. As I flew home to New Jersey, I reflected on this job that needed to be done, the papers we had gone through, and the time I had spent with my sisters.

By going through those papers, I found out that I missed some important events since I left my parent’s home 45 years ago. My sisters had stories of trips, boyfriends, and relationships that I had never heard before. I also discovered that my parents and siblings kept some difficult moments from me, especially as my sisters cared for my parents while they were sick. What distressed me most was seeing how many doctor and hospital bills they had. Both of my parents had strokes and lived for years afterwards with many ailments. My mother used to say that I was in love with my suitcase and so they never asked me to come home, even during the difficult times. I also found out that my parents kept their financial struggles away from me. I was able to see just how often their checking account came under $10 at the end of the month.

I missed out on some tough times, but I also missed great moments. I never knew how hard my mother worked to become a US citizen. She did it without much fanfare. I wish that I had been there for the day when she became a citizen and had thrown her a party like my seminary friends did for me when I became a citizen in 1976.

What brought the most joy and cheerfulness was reading more that 1000 cards and letters from their friends. They wrote to their friends in Europe and sent cards and letters to their new friends here in the United States. In return, they received hundreds of letters and over one thousand cards. In those letters that we could see again how greatly blessed we were to have two parents who loved one another, who loved their God, who loved their children, and who had hearts and a home opened for their friends. 

It was a worthwhile trip to see my sisters, hear new stories, and go through all of those papers!