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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Have you made any holiday lists yet? Maybe grocery items for Thanksgiving? How about a Christmas gift list? Some people, well they’re compulsive about it. I know I am. A recent Wall Street Journal article featured a company vice president. She uses Microsoft Word, Excel, a Blackberry and notebooks to organize her home and office lists. Some high-powered women execs review each other’s lists for competitive fun. That got author and commentator Karen Rizzo thinking about her own itemized scribblings.

KAREN RIZZO: My lists, written on scraps of crumpled paper, with the mundane “drop off kids, post office, bills, ask for deadline extension, sneakers, batteries for light sabers” seem, well, lowly in comparison.

But what’s in a list anyway?

I’m an avowed listmaker more along the lines of my parents. For as long as I can remember they scribbled lists, or just stared intently at them.

Perhaps that’s it. In making lists, we’re simply affording ourselves the illusion of who we think we are, the ideal of who we want to be.

My parents ran a tiny, storefront real estate office with piles of papers and antique tchotchkes.

A few times a year my father would put high on his list, “have statue appraised,” referring to the dusty, faux medieval paperweight soldier on his desk.

Mostly the lists were of things to do: “call tax guy, fix light switch, dentist appt, re-list Sweeny house, call jerk neighbor about garbage in alley . . .”

After my father’s death I sifted through piles of papers in search of who my father was, a secret divulged, a private journal or unsent letter.

What I found were lists, dozens of them, written in his long, angular script on the backs of bills and envelopes, on legal pads and paper towels.

Often, “call Karen” would be first, then a reminder of a family event, then came Jim Beam, provolone, Italian parsley, a question or two.

I threw everything out, deeming it insignificant in my search for something profound.

Only now do I realize that those mundane things that my father chose as reminders told me more about who he was than he ever told me himself.

I think of the things on many of his lists that he never got to. I’m reminded of the same few goals I put atop my own lists every couple years in the fervent hope of actually accomplishing them.

Maybe after I’m gone, my children will sift through those lists and recognize my successes and failures, my neuroses, my constant need to insure their comfort and happiness.

Maybe they’ll just see that I was just human.

THOMAS: Karen Rizzo is author of the book “Things to Bring.”

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