Dear Annie: I'm a happily married almost-70-year-old woman who has been sorting and purging the contents of boxes in my attic in preparation for downsizing. I was surprised to find one shoe box stuffed full of letters that an old high school boyfriend, "Dave," wrote to me during his first year in college. I reread enough of these letters to realize that what he wrote was much less about his romantic feelings for me at the time than it was about his own perception of his college experience and even his relationship with his parents.
My question is whether I should return these letters to him (I can find his address on the internet) or chuck them into the recycle bin.
I have no interest in renewing any contact with Dave. I am not even going to my 50-year high school reunion this year, where I might run into him. In other words, if I were to return these letters, it would not be in hopes of seeing him again or even eliciting a response. Because I am in the process of writing my own memoirs, I do sense the value these letters might have for this man. He would read about his day-to-day experience at college — a prestigious Ivy League school, I might add — and based on my peek into his letters, he would have the opportunity to read his own impressions about his relationship with his father, a man probably long dead. In this era of ephemeral communication via email and text, these handwritten letters strike me as potentially priceless to this man.
I brought up my dilemma with my husband, a sensible man whom I adore. He suggested that often the past is better left in the past, an adage I agree with heartily. What do you suggest I do? — Time Capsule in My Attic
Dear Time Capsule: Your husband is right that sometimes the past is better left alone. However, this is about Dave's past, not yours. Why not let Dave decide whether or not to leave it alone? Send him the letters, along with a cover note explaining what they are and telling him that he can feel free to recycle them if he'd like but you didn't feel right throwing them out. What a treasure-trove this could be for him and for any children or grandchildren he might have. And you will be able to feel good knowing you've gone out of your way to do a kind thing for an old friend.
Dear Annie: In the 1970s, I was a single mother, and one year, when I was between jobs, I was pleasantly surprised to get a Christmas dinner box from a charity. When I opened the can of corn, however, the stench was awful! It wasn't as though we starved because of it, but it was disappointing. This experience taught me to donate only new food.
It is wonderful that people help people by donating, but please remember: If it is too worn-out for your use or the expiration date is past, no matter how low the price, it is not a bargain for someone who is eking out a living. — Grateful
Dear Grateful: Well said. Thanks for sharing your experience of being on the receiving end of a well-intentioned but not well-executed donation.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]