Monday, September 06, 2010


I'm spending a long Labor Day weekend in Louisville with my parents, and--as my mom is still knee-deep in cleaning out and taking care of my grandparents' estate after their deaths earlier this year--I am getting to explore some amazing family treasures.

Turns out, my grandfather was a scrapper! He didn't put things in a book, but he liked to save special things, annotating them as to their significance. The coolest (I thought) was the boxers he was wearing when his Navy ship crossed the equator for the first time on May 20, 1935. He wrote on them in neat, capital letters with permanent marker, and carefully folded them in a box.

He also had his high school dipolma, final report card, and a dance card from a high school dance (noted as the first time he ever danced--he later met my grandmother in a dance hall).

My grandmother kept boxes for all of us with all the letters, cards, childish drawings, etc. we ever sent her. In my box, among all the cards and notes, I even found the map of my elementary school that was sent to them prior to Grandparents Day in second grade. Having all four of my grandparents at those Grandparents Day events was really special to me, so I loved seeing that map with the schedule of the day.

Postcards were kept separately in an album, and I went through those last night. There were cards from various relatives from trips they took to Europe and Hawaii, and all over the U.S. There were also postcards us granddaughters sent from camp, choir trips, and college.

The most amazing part of all this, though, were the postcards my grandfather sent to his parents during his first year in the Navy. He was so homesick, and these cards give a glimpse into his heart during that time. After some time at home in Ohio, he took a train back out to the west coast, and apparently was just horribly forlorn the whole way. Here's the "paper trail" I discovered from that train ride in 1935:

Nov. 6, 5:30 pm, Cleveland: "I feel better but still blue..."
Nov. 7, 3 am, Chicago: "Feel absolutely punk... Cried till I can't anymore."
Nov. 7, 3 pm: Des Moines: "The further [away] I get, the worse I feel."
Nov. 7, 6:30 pm, Omaha: "Lonesome as h---."
Nov. 8, 8 am, Wyoming: "Morning finds me here, and wishing I was there. My teeth hurt, my eyes, and my heart."
Nov. 9, noon, Las Vegas: "Still blue as the dickens..."

They may be one of the most special things I've ever come across.

I also finished transcribing my grandmother's autobiography, a project I began last time my parents visited us, and Mom brought the folder of typed pages. Nana liked using the typewriter, and several years ago my parents bought her an electric one. In 2007, apparently, she decided to write a little about her life story. It was only 18 typed pages (a little over eight when I typed it single-spaced), under 6500 words (like a long magazine article from The Atlantic or Christian Century) but contains so many wonderful details and memories.

My grandfather loved to talk, and told his favorite stories of his time in the Navy and at G.E. over and over again. My grandmother was content to let him dominate the conversation, and many of the stories we've heard from her were only because we specifically asked.

Now, we have a written record of her early years in Utah and California, how she and my grandfather met, their life together, and memories of her life's most exciting moments. I'm so glad to have this account of her life. We had so wanted her to live longer so she could get a word in edgewise and tell us more about herself. But, as in life, she followed Grandpa wherever he wanted to go. They have gone on together, and we are left with not just our own memories, but the treasures they left behind.

1 comment:

Katie Bug said...

What fantastic memories!


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