A bittersweet aspect of downsizing is sorting through family memorabilia. The task summons fond memories, and forces reflections on the lives of loved ones, now gone. That leads to reflections on the purpose and meaning of life in general. Then comes the practical decision on what to keep and what to throw away.
The other day I came across a group photo including my father at age 39, just over a year before I was born.
Raymond L. Copson
I’ve cropped him here from the photo, taken in March 1943 at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Nitrate Plant No. 2 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The plant was being honored at that point for its contributions to the war effort, and he was playing a key role in transforming civilian fertilizer manufacturing operations for the production of weapons. In the box with the photo was a letter from a friend, jokingly calling him the “handsomest chemical engineer in America.” You can see why.
After the war, he moved back to private industry and loved his 1950s job as director of research at a chemical plant in Baltimore. But then that plant was bought by the Allied Chemical behemoth, and he became a cog in a vast machine, which he didn’t much care for. Allied sent him to Syracuse, which he didn’t care for either — but that’s where I met Donna. Every cloud has a silver lining.
I think the last years of Pop’s career were a bit of a downer for him, but he picked himself up after retiring by volunteering for the International Executive Service Corps, which sent him to South Korea to teach chemical engineering, and then to Mexico to consult for a chromium chemical company. He and my mother treasured those experiences, just as they savored their retirement in Florida. (IESC still exists, incidentally, and is looking for both mid-career and retired volunteers.)
Am I keeping my father’s papers or throwing them away? A bit of both — and I’ve found a third way: donation. The University of North Alabama collects TVA-related materials and has been delighted to receive my fathers papers, photos, and professional articles from that part of his career. They are even calling it the Raymond L. Copson Collection. The Onondaga County Historical Society has taken a few things from the Syracuse period. Before sending these items off, I’ve scanned anything that might be of interest to the family in later years to a thumb drive. As for the rest, I’ve thrown out duplicates and some files that dealt with personnel matters, but most has gone back into the box.
We’ll still need some storage space for family history in our new place — especially since items related to my father’s career are just a part of what we have.
And now, back to work. What am I going to do with this snippet from grandmother’s wedding dress?