Since we’ve been stuck at home because of the ongoing pandemic, my family has managed to find some time to tackle those little round-the-house odd jobs we’d been pushing off to the side. One of those projects was clearing out my dad’s old boxes in the attic, full of what I would describe as “paper miscellany.” My mom hauled them down, but as the family member with the most experience working in libraries and archives, sorting them and figuring out what to keep and what to chuck fell to me.

Dad was a bit of a hoarder. He was also a lawyer for about 15 years. That’s a dangerous combination when it comes to storage. He kept everything in triplicate. Most of what I found in his lawyer-era boxes and briefcases were incredibly boring memos from the legal department of a bank in the early 1990s – and, yes, I checked to make sure there wasn’t anything revealing a huge scandal or cover-up. There was a Post-it note that had “throw-away camera (evidence!)” written on it but despite my frantic searching, I have yet to find any camera with any evidence. (I guess a lawyer would know best how to make sure evidence never sees the light of day.) My Woodward and Bernstein moment continues to elude me. In the “lawyer era” years, which ran from roughly 1985 to 1999, I found a pile of retirement savings pamphlets. He never did get a chance to retire. He died when he was 59.

The travel brochures were the saddest part. There were a whole pile of them – all from the ’90s when travel brochures were still a thing. My dad and I were basically the same person, psychologically speaking, with the exact same personality traits, but with one notable difference: He had the travel bug, and I don’t. Some of the countries in his pile he did end up visiting. Others, he never made it to.

I can’t say it was all sad, or even mostly. It’s still delightful to find anything with my dad’s (terrible) handwriting on it, even notes about bank litigation, or shopping lists consisting of the bare essentials (wine, laundry detergent and artichoke hearts). I found a truly astounding amount of Jerry Brown campaign literature. A draft of a scalding letter to the editor about why Maine should keep its caucus system instead of switching to primaries (he eventually changed his mind on that one, but this was from 1996).

A memo from a colleague that ended with “congratulations on Julie’s pregnancy!” dated January 1992. I was born in September 1992. That pregnancy was me. There was a pile of photocopied articles about gender inequity in education and what to do about it. None of the articles said “make your daughter do flashcards in the summer,” but that’s what he did anyway. My dad wanted to give me and my sister every advantage that he could offer us.

Gobs of lawyer money wasn’t one of those advantages, sadly. Around 1999-2000, the boxes change. That was when my dad quit being a lawyer and entered the University of Southern Maine’s Extended Teacher Education Program. He became an ed tech, working one-on-one with kids. The pay cut he took was more like a pay amputation, but he loved it and, not to brag, but he was really good at it. I was around 9 when he went into the program, and apparently Young Victoria took it very seriously, because I made covers for all of his class binders, written in my painstaking Catholic-school loopy cursive.

It was delightful and a bit trippy to go through my dad’s homework. Homework! And papers that were graded! He was a good student (clearly, since he graduated from the program), but it’s amazing how much effort he put into learning and doing the work. I admit that when I was in school, I didn’t always put in as much effort as I could have. I’d be happy with a B-plus even though I could have gotten an A. (I would not be willing to admit this if my father were still alive. I would be in so much trouble.) But Dad was a real workhorse.

As it turns out, the first time I got my picture in this newspaper wasn’t when I started writing this column in October 2017. It was May 1994. Baby Victoria was playing with a sink in a photo taken at an auction benefiting Greater Portland Landmarks. Chubby cheeks are much more photogenic on babies than they are on young adults. My dad had two copies of that paper.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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