Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Treasures Tucked Away in Boxes

Last month I spent a couple of weeks getting my mom moved from the apartment where she'd lived over ten years into an assisted living apartment. It was quite a job, physically and emotionally, but mixed in with the exhaustion and the tedious sorting, shredding, and packing chores were quite a few delightful experiences.

One of them included finding a cloth-on-cardboard bound autobiography my father wrote for school when he was twelve years old. It's dated May 23, 1933. The first thing I noticed when I opened the book was his beautiful penmanship. It was written in cursive, with ink.

The spelling and grammar are pretty darned good too.

Chapter One consists of a list of the names and birthdates of his four brothers, his parents' names, and the tidbit that he was born at home on the farm.

Here's Chapter Two: First Thing I Remember

"The first thing I remember was when we lived out on the farm. I had a brother who was four years old while I was only three. Our father bought a barrel of salt for the cows and to use making ice cream.

One day he went to town. My brother and I dumped the barrel over and strung the salt all over the barn Gee, the barn was a sight, and we had a peck of fun! But when our father came home it wasn't as much fun as we thought[t]."

I learned a few things in that little book that I'd never known about my dad and his childhood, including the names of their pony (Fury) and their dog (Jiggs). Now I wonder how many other great stories I missed because Dad wasn't much of a talker...or because I failed to ask.

Luckily, my mom has been very good about verbally sharing her life story over the years. During the big move, however, I discovered she's also a closet writer. I found stories and personal essays and bits of memoir in some of the strangest places, including a folder full of old financial papers. I brought all that I could find home with me for typing and sharing with family. I hope I can convince her to write down more. I left a whole stack of pads and pens in a drawer not far from her favorite chair, just in case.

We can't all count on these little treasures tucked away in boxes. We need to get together with our parents and grandparents when they're young enough to remember and old enough to have time to reminisce. Treasures tucked away in aging minds may be lost by the time we think to ask the questions.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is quite a treasure to find! Yes, gather together your mother's things as well. I hear my parents tell stories all the time and I need to start recording them when they begin talking.

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - What a wonderful treasure! You've now gotten a chance to get to know your father in a unique way. You were so, so lucky you found it.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful treasure indeed Patricia.
I know your mother will get on fine in her new surroundings, when younger I was in charge of a housing assisting place and it was wonderful part of my life. I hope you're feeling better,


E.J. Wesley said...

Just love reading about people finding these lost bits of childhood--especially the writers that find stories they've written. :)

Hope your mother has a smooth transition to her new digs, Patricia. Never an easy thing to give up your home. We're moving out of our house of 6 years here in South Texas next week to live in California. We're very excited for the change, but it's still hard to leave friends and memories behind.

You're a good daughter for helping out. :)

Rena Jones said...

Wow! What a wonderful discovery!

LD Masterson said...

So true. I will always regret not recording in some way my mum-in-law's life story before she left us.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Alex, you'll be so glad you did. And with the digital recorders you don't have to do all that fiddling with tape.

Margot, I also have a few photos of him as a very small boy that just make me giggle because he was so cute. Just can't imagine him that age.

Hi Yvonne -- so far Mom seems to love her new place. She gets privacy when she wants it and almost instant assistance when she needs it. The folks who work there are lovely, the food is good, and there's lots to do if one chooses.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks, E.J. And yes, moving at any time of our lives is a major disruption and can be very stressful. My husband and I want to downsize, but the thought of getting ready to move keeps us putting it off.

Rena, the photos have been a joy too. I found lots of pictures I'd never seen before, and there are still a couple of boxes at Mom's new apartment we haven't gone through yet.

L.D., I had an unusual situation with my own dear friend and mother-in-law. There was so much I could have learned, but so much she didn't want to tell. :D

John Paul McKinney said...

Pat, This is a great post! I think we learn more about ourselves when we learn about our parents and grandparents. I am forever grateful that my mother shared stories with me of her own growing up. Thanks for sharing your stories. JP

Mason Canyon said...

Pat, you did find wonderful treasurers. I so agree with you about getting together with parents and grandparents to find out as much as you can while they can still remember. If you put it off too long, life can sometimes lock their memories away from you.

Thoughts in Progress

Julie Flanders said...

Oh my gosh, what a treasure! I can imagine how touching it was for you to read this book. Amazing find.

Patricia Stoltey said...

John Paul, we stand to lose so much when we don't slow down and listen, that's for sure.

Hi Mason -- I'm so fortunate to have a mom who at age 94 still retains most of her memory, both distant and recent. It's a blessing.

Julie, I'll admit to a teary moment or two, especially when I realized how few things in that short little autobiography were things I already knew.

j.a. kazimer said...

How wonderful. The autobiography should be framed.

pam2spicy said...

Pat, I so wish I had gotten more information from my Mom and grandmother, too. This is a precious post. When you can hold something in your hand it will keep our families close.

Darla Dumler said...

I love the phrase, "we had a peck of fun." I agree, it is important to ask our aging loved ones stories from their past before they are lost forever. Enjoy reading through your new findings.

Trisha F said...

Wow, what amazing treasures you found! Your father's autobio is almost an artefact of interest to the wider community as well, not just your family :) Or maybe it's just that I'm fascinated by personal stories from past eras in general. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Pat - what a wonderful treasure trove .. and I'm so pleased you've found them and been able to save them ... for your own family, and nears and dears ...

I wonder if your mother would enjoy talking into a tape recorder? Perhaps as therapy if one of the carers helped at the time?

What a wonderful treasure trove though .. happy days ... cheers Hilary