07 Apr Time: The Gift in this Pandemic.
So, with all this free time on my hands I decided to tackle the stack of papers, photos and mementos that have been tucked under my bed since my mother passed away two years ago. It’s a chore I’ve avoided because I knew it would take me down a rabbit hole once I started.
The first item I came across was my father’s tackle box. As I lifted the clasps on this old black metal relic, I expected to find rows and rows of old wooden fishing lures. “Wigglers” and “Jitterbugs,” I could hear his voice, teaching me their names and which fish they attracted. Silver spinners and squishy worms, all neatly arranged by color. A can or two of Vienna sausages plus a roll of Tums. I could feel my throat tighten as I recalled those hot summer days when he and I sat patiently in his boat on Big Creek Lake, waiting for the bream to bite. Oftentimes nary a word between us, but oh! I so felt his love.
Instead of fishing gear I found several envelopes filled with family memorabilia. In the first was a letter, typewritten on crinkly onion skin, from the Scots Ancestry Research Society in Edinburgh, Scotland. I shuddered to see that most families listed 5, 7 and 8 children – and I thought it was hard having three! Beside some of the names my grandmother had added notes like “very stylish in clothes and social circles…” and “had beautiful silver, fine books and pictures.” Immediately recognizing her handwriting, I could feel her sweet, gentle presence.
I found postcards from places my parents visited while on their long, 1800-mile drive from Montgomery, Alabama to Ogden, Utah. It was 1953, just months after I was born. My father had been transferred to Hill Air Force base, where he would become a test pilot. As I flipped through the postcards from the motor courts where they stayed, I recalled my mother telling me how she washed my diapers in the bathroom sink each night. “The next morning,” my straight-laced mother admitted, “I’d roll them up in the car windows and let them flap in the wind to dry!” I needed to be reminded of that “I-don’t-care-what-people-think” side of her.
Next was an envelope labeled, “Things Mama (Clara) wanted saved.” In it was a Western Union telegram dated August 7, 1924 that read, “BABY DIED THIS PM BURY TOMORROW TEN OCLOCK HAVE GRAVE READY. A death, short and to the point. Since the sender paid by the word, there was no room for emotion. She wanted the memory of her child, a “blue baby” I remember her saying, to live on. I got it. I lost my first baby, too.
Then I opened a large envelope of stamps my mother apparently saved for my grandmother who was a true collector. Stamps from Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina, Ecuador, and Panama — all places my mom and dad traveled while our family lived in El Salvador. Others came from places my father flew in the war as an Air Force pilot: Madagascar, Singapore, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Egypt, and the Republik Österreich (now Austria). Okay, I can blame THEM for my insatiable wanderlust gene!
At the bottom of the box I found half a stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum, which was petrified, of course! I could see my mother clear as day, tearing that stick of gum in half. It used to drive me crazy because it wasn’t enough to pop between my teeth. “Ladies don’t chew gum,” she’d say. It was to freshen our breath.
But the piece that got to me was the handwritten letter from the grandfather I never knew. In this letter that dated back to World War I, he wrote from his post in France, “I am getting along fine now. I was in the hospital 26 days with Influenza but it didn’t hurt me very much.” I never expected to find a first-hand report from someone sickened by the 1918 pandemic. “I can’t wait to get home,” he wrote from a continent away. York, Alabama was his dream. Getting home to family, his mission.
I think about all the things our kids will never experience. Wooden fishing lures and Vienna sausages. Onion skin paper and Corona typewriters. Cursive penmanship and fountain pens. Telephones connected to the wall, and trips with paper maps. Motor inns with swimming pools and boat-size cars with roll down windows. Telegrams delivered by hand. And sadly, hand-written letters with beautiful stamps.
So, while I’m stuck at home, not able to walk Barcelona as I’d planned, I’m thankful that I have time to stroll through the stories of my family’s past.
Enjoy this time, my friends. And stay with me.