I spent two weeks in Chicago over the last 48-hours, emptying my mother's apartment of her accumulation of 60 or 70 years of junk.
It's funny how little intrinsic value the things we spend a lifetime acquiring have when we are dead. The paintings on the walls, virtually worthless. The little glass figurines similarly add up to almost nothing. And the furniture which was so precious (don't let the kids on that!) is appraised at Craig's List prices. $175 for a leather sofa.
While my wife meandered through the nearly empty space, I wandered from room to room looking at the books my parents had bought but hadn't gotten around to reading. Mostly big fat histories with their dust covers and bindings virgin.
I found a book that interested me, "The Medium is the Message," in an early edition, hardcover. Inside was a handful of employee appraisals that my father had filled out for people who had worked for him. They were dated June, 1964.
The highest paid of the creatives in the bunch was getting a $1500 raise from $10,500 to an even $12,000. The lowest was a studio artist who had been working at my old man's agency since just after World War II ended having joined in July, 1945. He was getting a $1000 raise. From $5200 to $6200. He'd be making $120/week.
I read these reviews my father had hurriedly written in his down-slanting script in pencil. They were well written and full of praise and requests for big (percentage-wise) increases. Most of them spoke of men who were working 70-80 hours a week.
I thought of my father writing them while on the train to White Plains, my father fighting for their raises. I thought of the young men, thrilled at getting an extra $20 or $30 a week.
They're all gone now, or at least I suspect they are, after all, if my old man were alive today he'd be 84, and that's plenty old enough.
I put the appraisals in my bag, sheathed once again in the book they'd been hiding in. I figured they might make an interesting blog entry someday.
It didn't seem right to just toss them away. And anyway I couldn't do it.