When my grandmother Beulah passed away in 2002 she entrusted me with all the errata of her life. She was born in 1900 so that was a lot of errata! She'd been the one chosen to ferret away all the treasures from her parent's families as well as her husband's because she'd been the only one to care. I spent many days with her sitting in her chair and me on the floor at her feet going through her belongings -- old pictures, letters, bibles -- and asking her who they belonged to. We would laugh and share stories and old memories. Grandma was a tiny woman, barely 4'11", but she had such a big presence! Other than my daughter she's the one person in my life that has meant the most to me. I miss her so fiercely I can still be brought to tears but I blink them back because I know she'd just admonish me in her soft voice. "Now, Patti," she'd say, "it's the way of things. I wanted to go. It was my time."
The generations in her family were long ones. Though I am only in my early 40's, my great-grandparents (my grandma's parents, that is) were born in the 1850s and 1860s. My grandma was 40 when she had my dad and her mother was 40 when she was born. She told me that when she was born in 1900 on a cold December day in Illinois, her dad put her in a shoebox in the bottom drawer of a bureau and moved it closer to the fire so the reflection of the heat would keep her warm. She said that he could hold her in the palm of his hand -- she was only about 2 1/2 lbs when she was born -- and they honestly didn't think she'd even live. She lived, all right! She lived until she was 101, long enough to see my daughter born and even better, long enough so that my daughter will be able to always remember her "great-nahnee."
I have many, if not most, of her things. She bestowed them upon me before her last stroke, the one that sent her permanently into the nursing home from her place in my parent's home. Now that she's gone, I'm the only one who cares. I have the cedar chest she got from my grandfather upon their wedding in 1934. In it rests McGuffey's Readers and old dolls and family bibles and letters and a hair book from the 1860's. I have a metal Coca-Cola cooler she had from the 40s or 50s that now houses many more old photographs. I have two heavy metal fishing tackle boxes that house deeds and letters and metal social security cards and old coins and....well, you get the picture.
The treasures in these boxes are so many that the lists above don't do them justice. They'll be fodder for many a future post, that's for sure! What made me begin this tale, however, was the letters my grandmother kept of her correspondence with a boy serving in the same outfit as her brother did during World War I. I've been thinking for some time now that I'd like to pull them out and transcribe them and then post them here now that it's almost assured that both writer and receiver are gone. After that I'd like to return them to his family members. What if he died later on in the War? What if the letters I own are the only written record of someone precious to someone else and I'm only holding onto them because my grandma did? No, I think they rightly belong in someone else's hands.
I think I'll find them tonight when I return home and see what I can do. Stay tuned!