Thursday, June 14, 2012

Keeper of lessons

Yesterday I spent some more time sorting through the boxes of my Grandmother's cards and letters. I am still in awe of all she saved and am convinced I am just discovering them now for a good reason.

You've heard the saying, When the student is ready, the teacher appears? I am devouring these old letters of Grandma's like a hungry child, so eager to open the next envelope, unfold the next letter, read the next news from one of her three sisters, or her brother, Pete, who signed his letters, Your lonesome brother, Pete. Now, why was he lonesome? Until recently, I may not have been curious. Now I am.

I know so very little about my Grandmother's own family, and yet they were alive when I was growing up. Sure, maybe I heard them referred to as Aunt Johanna or Aunt Katie sometimes. But I never realized they were real people. With lives. That were connected to my Grandma. That my Grandma was ever anything but my Grandma. As if she were born that way, born just to be there in that time to be my Grandma.

Now I am realizing she was more than a Grandma (to nineteen of us), more than my father's mother, more than a farm wife, more than a cook, a gardener, a mender of socks.

My Grandmother, lower middle.
Johanna standing in back.
Mary on left; Katie on right.

She was a sister. She was a daughter. Someone's child. A teenager, a young woman in love, a newlywed, a young mother.

Somewhere during her young womanhood, she came from Ida Grove, Iowa to live as a housekeeper in South Dakota and met my Grandfather. I don't know if she ever looked back, but she never returned to Iowa to live, though two of her sisters and her brother remained.

Through the years that followed, letters were sent back and forth: first 1-cent, then 2-cent, then 4-cent stamps affixed to the yellowed envelopes.

Usually they started with, My dear sister or Dear Stina or sometimes just, Dear sister.

They told of ordinary occurrences: the flu bug going around, a wind storm in town last week, the price of eggs, butter and dry goods, butchering cattle, plans for Thanksgiving, kids coming for Easter, how are your crops doing this year, and so on.

Everyday things in everyday lives.

What was extraordinary was that these letters were filed and saved. Tucked away in shoeboxes with little notes written on the envelopes as to the date received and the date answered. It's just what was done back then. One didn't just throw them away. And now, these letters saved, I am learning about my Grandma in a role different from who she was as just my Grandma.

But it got me to thinking: Who is the keeper of the lessons of today? And what are the lessons of today?

Letter writing? A thing of the past. Photos? Taken with a phone, shared on Facebook, stored on the computer, if at all.  Lacey Valentine cards? Bygone days, from the past. Christmas greetings? Now an e-mail sent with one keystroke to a distribution list, or a duplicated generic letter.

How, I wonder, will our great-grandchildren learn about our ordinary lives of today? I pride myself on keeping the clutter down and too easily toss Mother's Day cards, Easter greetings, birthday cards and the like. I tell myself my children don't want all this stuff and certainly won't treat it with any reverence. Of no importance, this stuff, of no value that I can see now.

But in the future, these things may be clues. What may not seem worth keeping today may be my grandchild's delight to discover some day.

From now on, I think I'll take the chance and tuck these things away. I'll definitely save the postmark and the stamp, or note the date.

I can be the keeper of today's lessons; still teach and talk to my grandchildren, here or not, through these treasures of the past.