Do you have scrapbooks from camp or a sports team or a school? Among the yellowed pages are probably photos, awards and news clippings that show you as others saw you then. I’ve got at least one scrapbook: Somewhere in our garage is a bright pink volume bound with a gold cord that holds photos of me each year with my bunk at Arrowhead Day Camp. (I also had a lot of “most improved camper” awards, which meant I sucked at sports but the counselor had to give me something on the last day.)
But I’ve got nothing on Louie Zamperini, Olympic athlete, Pacific POW and subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Hillenbrand painstakingly researched Zamperini’s amazing life story.
In her acknowledgements, she describes the voluminous materials Zamperini, now in his ’90s, graciously loaned her: “A superlative pack rat, Louie had saved seemingly every artifact of his life, from the DO NOT DISTURB sign that he had swiped form Jesse Owens in Berlin to the paper number that he wore as he shattered the interscholastic mile record in 1934. One of his scrapbooks, which covers only 1917 to 1938, weighs sixty-three pounds.” (her italics) Zamperini also loaned the author other scrapbooks, diaries, photos and letters. “All of these things were treasure troves to me, telling his story with immediacy and revealing detail,” Hillenbrand writes.
Zamperini’s packrat nature served her well. If he hadn’t become famous, what would have become of his scrapbooks? What happens to most people’s memorabilia when they downsize or die?
What will become of mine? My plan is to leaf through them this summer when we clean out the garage and save a few keepsake photos electronically. I might look up a few of my fellow Arrowhead camper on Facebook or contact a few grade-school classmates. Or not.
My diaries, though, are off limits. I haven’t reread them, but I’m saving them. If Laura Hillenbrand wants to have a look, I might say yes.