Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hidden treasures

Little could my grandmother have known that the letters, news clippings, greeting cards and invitations she kept, neatly organized in bundles, would bring us so much joy a half-century or more later. And not only bring us joy but teach us of the past.

Following the death of Uncle Marvin last August, the century-old farmhouse in White Lake, South Dakota, of which he was the last occupant, had to be emptied. Its contents included boxes of memorabilia tucked away by Grandma: dried corsages, yellowed news clippings, a few recipes, calling cards, letters.

There was correspondence back and forth between Grandma and her sister, Johanna, telling of family news between Iowa and South Dakota, keeping in touch through the sadly-lost art of the written letter using linen paper and a fountain pen. I learned my Grandmother, whose given name was Christina (or Christena) was called Stina by her sisters and brother. I had never heard her referred to as Stina before.

What really struck me is how organized Grandma was. Each bundle was packaged in a recycled paper bag like the kind you got at the five-and-dime, and labeled: Pa's Birthday 1957, Mother's Day 1962, and one labeled:

There was a thick bundle of letters tied with string, and as I began to open them, I realized what this package was: every single letter written home from Uncle Marvin when he was in the Marines, stationed in California, from 1950 to 1952. The first letter told of his arrival and the last said he was leaving to come home as his discharge had been processed. Every single letter that warmed a mother's heart and assured her that her son was safe; every single letter bundled for safekeeping.

She had a similar bundle from my Dad when he served in the Navy ten years earlier, but she had given that bundle to my family already. My sister, Joan, has scanned each one for an album she entitled, Dear Folks, as all his letters began.

There were letters and cards sent to Grandma from her grandchildren through the years. They are priceless to us now. My favorite is one I wrote to tell her I was pregnant with my first child, and she would be a Great-Grandmother. That was 1966. Thank you notes from me for bridal shower, wedding and baby gifts were among the many other treasures.

I also came across something from a
bygone era I had never seen before: a formal engagement announcement. It was engraved on a little card such as you would get for a high school graduation. I hadn't realized that was done.

As I had offered to take on the task of going through all these boxes, uncovering their precious contents made me realize what an awesome assignment and honor this really was. I spent many happy hours just marveling at what had been kept by my Grandmother. She must have treasured these cards and letters as she was a practical farm wife who didn't place importance on frivolous things. I just think the messages and words spoke to her heart and she couldn't bear to part with them.

The packages have now been sorted and divided, pertinent papers shared with other family members. They, too, are enjoying reliving words and greetings of the past, recalling memories as told in the assorted messages.

And so, almost fifty years following her passing, Grandma is giving us gifts. Memories she kept for us, safely wrapped in bundles in recycled dime-store bags. Tucked away in back of her linen closet.

Waiting to be discovered.