Putting the “Me” in “Memorabilia” by
(118 Stories)

Prompted By Memorabilia

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It is not as though I have not saved a fair amount of my stuff, dating back at least from high school.  And I have not (consciously) thrown any of it out over the years.  Indeed, when I retired at the end of last year, I had to set up additional file space at home in order to incorporate all of the “professional” memorabilia that I had typically kept in my office files.  However, I have never systematically retained any of my memorabilia; I have usually just stuffed it in a Redweld folder with some kind of generic label (e.g., “Personal Archives IV”).

With all due modesty aside, among the memorabilia are a fair number of awards and the like that I have received over the years.  However, I have been reticent to display them publicly. And I have done that for a very good reason.  My former wife, as I have mentioned before, is very prominent in New York educational and cultural circles.  And she has, deservedly, won a huge number of highly prestigious awards, honorary degrees and such.  Though she is a fairly modest person, nonetheless, a good number of these did find their way onto a wall or two (or more) of our homes.  In response, our daughters, with all the parental respect that one would expect from two smart-ass New York kids, always labelled these displays as “Mom’s ‘Wall of Ego'” (hereinafter “WOE”).  I simply did not want to suffer the double ignominy of my much more modest award collection garnering a similar title.

As such, the only literally egocentric memorabilia I had on the walls of my office were three framed items.  One was an award from about ten years ago for being named “Top Corporate Counsel” given by the Milwaukee Business Journal when I was based in that city (yeah, I know; big fish/small pond).  It’s pretty cheesy, but —  no kidding — the managing partner of my firm insisted that I put it up since he thought it reflected well on the firm.  What could I say?

The other two were letters. One was the letter which I received from the “Voice of the Yankees,” Mel Allen, when I was ten years old and had written to him about becoming a sportscaster.  I wrote about that in another Retro story:

The other letter was one I received from the Dean of Admissions at Wesleyan when I informed him that I had decided to go to Harvard instead of Wesleyan and he —  (presumably) inadvertently —  ended the otherwise very nice letter by saying “Our loss is Yale’s gain.”

So maybe there is more than a dollop of humblebrag in displaying that second letter, but cut me a little ego-massaging slack, OK?

When I retired, as mentioned, I brought home all of my office memorabilia, including all of the award stuff I had never bothered to hang up.  Though still conscious of the WOE stigma, having a blank wall or two that needed filling in my den and no daughters living at home to give me any crap about it, I decided to go over to the Dark Side and finally build my own WOE.  The main part of it (yeah; there’s some around a couple of corners) is the featured image to this story.

Happily, my (current) wife is fine with my WOE — it’s not like it’s in the living room or on the ceiling above our bed.  Plus, with the COVID19 social isolation, no one is visiting us anyway to see it.  As such, its existence is analogous to the line about not having to worry about anyone seeing your true hair color these days.

In any event, let me end this story by making the obvious point: WOE is me.


Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    WOE to you, John. Tough living in the shadow of a prominent women, huh? But the second and third frames you discuss are pretty amusing. I think it’s great that you have finally filled your walls with your distinguished career, even if only you and your wife can appreciate it. Now all of us Retro folks can cheer for your many accomplishments too!

  2. Huzzah, John! As always I love your wordplay, and I’m SO glad you shared your WOE with us. That’s part of the beauty of being here…we get to share with a select few we know and trust without fear of judgment, and who could possibly think less of you for such humble bragging?! And, taking your hair analogy a tad further, as sung by Cyndi Lauper, “Don’t be afraid to let them show, your true colors, true colors are beautiful, like a rainbow.”

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks much, Barb. I much appreciate your thoughts. Of course, the truth is that many of us actually WANT to be judged — but only if the judging is favorable. In this, I place myself as a very distant second to the lame excuse for a President we currently have.

  3. A child of WOE, eh? But I’m in full agreement. My professional life yielded few “hangables”. I’m staring at a few as I write: diplomas, bar admission certificates, Tax Court admission certificate. None of lasting significance, of course, but isn’t it nice to know who we once were?

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your pun and your WOE, John. At this stage of life, I think we are all entitled to give ourselves a a little pat on the back for a life well lived and for the things we achieved.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks and thanks, Laurie. And, yes, I’ve decided I might as well take some credit, deserved or not. After all, I’ve been blamed for things that aren’t my fault, too. (Or does that sound too Trumpian?)

  5. Marian says:

    So enjoyed your WOE, John, and what was behind it. Although I hadn’t really thought of professional memorabilia, they add a fascinating dimension to this prompt. This brought to mind my professional memorabilia, which are short on certificates but very long on printed samples after more than 40 years of marketing and technical writing. Last year I finally went through them and eliminated duplicates, but kept them because most exist only in print form. When my partner noticed newsletter articles I’d written about the supercomputers at NASA (this would have been 1983 or 1984), he suggested I talk to the curator at the Computer History Museum down the road from us, and apparently they might be of historical interest. Who know they could end up in a museum collection?”

  6. Marian says:

    While my stuff is substantive, John, it can make me seem like a fossil as I explain the intricacies of writing for print layouts to wide-eyed young writers who have written only for tweets, email, and the web. While I was at a recent Computer History Museum exhibit, I noticed the Xerox “LiveBoard” display, which was a hulking $150,000 collaboration tool for business (from the early 1990s) that operated on dial-up and required a special gestural language to use. I had written the operator’s manual for this device (soon eclipsed by the internet, email, and PDFs), so I chose to feel a part of history rather than ancient history!

  7. Suzy says:

    I love this story, a hilarious take on the memorabilia prompt! Knowing your former wife, I can imagine what HER “woe” looks like! You cleverly took the photo for your featured image at an angle, so we can’t quite read any of the documents on your wall – I am particularly intrigued by the one with your picture that is above the Top Corporate Counsel award.

    Fortunately, the Retrospect software allows us to click on all images in the story *except* the featured one, so we can get a good look at the Mel Allen and Wesleyan College letters. I am very glad you saved both of those, especially the Wesleyan one! And thanks for contributing the acronym WOE to all of our vocabularies! I can’t wait to use it on somebody!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks so muck, Suzy. And yeah; I tried to make the documents unreadable, so you might (wrongly) assume one was a Congressional Medal of Honor. The one you referenced is from when I was named to my high school’s “Hall of Honor” about twelve years ago. (The fix was in with my former adviser on the school newspaper, which I edited for two years.) You can see why I can stay pretty humble about all of these.

  8. Thanx John for the journey through your professional life and your well-deserved recognition . . . and the peek at your daughters who couldn’t care less!

    But please know that we your Boomer peers are duly impressed!

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