BY Joan Dorsey
Last week was the city wide garage sale. Depending on your age, it means different things to different folks. Under 30 is usually, drag it out of the garage or bedroom and throw it on the drive way. Buy sell or trade. 40-50 you get rid of your children’s stuff as they are leaving home (hopefully). 60 and up is a different crowd. You are trying to downsize, determine which is a family item or just an item or trash.
I watched my father-in –law and my sister-in-law plow through lots of family items. Some were collectibles from the 70’s some were items needed by a family for everyday living. A number of them were hobby items for past times that had been popular here and there. While my mother could sew and create with cloth, my mother-in-law could do it all. Crochet, tole painting, ceramics, quilting, cake decorating and the list goes on. She has amazing talents.
I would get so inspired by them I would head home and dig out one of my storage tubs to take stock of my saved stuff.
Garage sale preps are usually filled with motion but the quiet moments occur. A box is opened to reveal letters written by a person now deceased. Birthday cards with handwriting that will never be signed by loved ones again. A heartfelt note many years old hoping you are well and happy.
I am not sure at what point something hand written becomes a treasure. It could be that moment when they pass and you realize this was their hand touching this paper, the act of putting thought to pen to paper.
I opened the storage tote, looking for a cemetery deed. My family is here in Gardner and mostly in the same area of the Gardner Cemetery. Carefully moving old papers and reading notes, forms and bits of history. Amazing what middle class Americans had for income in the 60’s and 70’s. This was my mother’s box of business items. Cancelled checks, tax forms, and letters. Family trees and the like. After rummaging about I found a small brown envelope with numbers written in pencil. Looked like the payoff amount to a car or just mom’s arithmetic. I never expected to find what was contained inside. My folks moved around the country a good deal before I was born, and some after. They went from West coast to Arkansas and back and forth. My mother very diligently, kept some items she knew had no monetary value, but would someday be priceless to her children. I found elementary school report cards. I knew what sort of students my folks were. They were very bright, didn’t cause trouble and valued the fact they were allowed to go to school. What I found was my dad’s 6th grade report card. I checked his attendance and grades and slipped it back into the holder. I sat for a minute considered what I had just looked at and fished it back from my save pile. I turned it over and there on the back, signed five times, was my Grandmother’s signature. Mrs. Tom Dorsey. Several were in pencil, a couple in ink. I started to cry. I was holding a piece of paper my Grandmother had written her name on. She had died 25 years before I was born. I am sure she had looked at those grades told my Dad good job and signed her name. Why only five signatures? Because she died before school was out that year. I found the next report card in the set and that year was signed by Mrs. Stockmeyer. Dad went to live with them and started delivering milk behind a horse drawn wagon when he was still a boy. They treated him well and he never complained about his life. I cried later that night, sad for the little boy given away by his father. I wondered what could have happened to him if things hadn’t turned out the way they did.
So before you trash all those things you consider to be worthless pieces of paper, remember there may be clues to where you came from inside. It may not matter when you are 30 but it may make all the difference in the world when you are older.
History of a Family in Bits and Pieces
BY Joan Dorsey