It might have been a sad time, the sorting through of my grandma’s things. And sometimes it may be. But though the grief and trials and uncertainties of daily life would soon encroach again, in that evening of digging and discovering and sharing—aunt, uncle, cousin, my parents and sister and I—we found treasures, memories, and gales of laughter more than tears.
Clown hats and glass grapes…family heirlooms and costume jewelry…wooden fruit and a teeny tiny turtle. Items remembered from long ago and things no one could recall seeing before—the collections of ninety-six full-lived years. And the stories that were remembered and told!
But for me, it was the implied stories, the unearthed bits of real-live history, that set my historical writers’ fingers to tingling and my mind skittering ahead—or rather, back seventy to one hundred years.
…A real 1944 Union Pacific telegram, sent by my grandma to my grandpa on their fifth anniversary, when he was stationed with the Coast Guard during World War II.
…A page from a 1943 newspaper, mapping possible routes for the Allied invasion of Europe (and, just as deliciously, advertisements and patriotic articles of the time).
…Hotel bills from my grandparents’ honeymoon in 1939. The fanciest place they stayed cost $10 a night!
…Old photographs, showing my grandma in school plays as a college student and even a little girl in small-town, 1920s Kentucky.
…Papery-thin baby clothes with tiny buttons and hand-tatted trim, the long skirt that kept a 1916 infant safely corralled.
…The records of my grandma’s move up from the “Cradle Roll” in Sunday School, and even her parents’ marriage certificate.
I made my family laugh with my enthusiasm. But to hold history in hand like that—to read what they read, touch the clothes they wore, see the carefully penned lines from so long ago—to realize anew that history does not just happen in books, but is written and lived by people. Even people I knew and loved and whose heritage I carry. They were there.
So, my fellow historical writers and all history lovers—can you relate? What treasure troves of the past have you found lately?