After Grandpa Ray died, Grandma June started to label things. We’d be over for a birthday dinner and one of us would remark, “I really like this picture frame.”
The next time we visited a label with the admirer’s name had been affixed to the picture. This happened with furniture, antiques, dishes, pitchers and every time we’d admonish, “Stop it, Grandma. You’re not leaving us tomorrow.”
But, Grandma didn’t stop and unbeknownst to us she continued to label her things with more than names. She labeled with stories.
Grandma June left us so peacefully the week of Thanksgiving 2013. Throughout the holidays and this long winter her house sat empty, her treasures collecting dust. No one wanted to ask. When would we clean house?
Then last Saturday the entire family gathered to wander Grandma’s unusually large farmhouse. With memories in tow, we planned to spend an hour and gather a few tokens from Grandma June.
We weren’t prepared, though for a tour guide from the grave. We found two notebooks in a desk drawer. One contained a numbered list corresponding to labels we found on furniture, behind pictures, and under glassware. Next to each number was the story behind the thing.
Some read simply, “Nothing special.” or “I feel this is good.” Others told tales of travel. #36, a pitcher, came from the East on a covered wagon to sit in Mrs. Haskell’s dining room. Mrs. Haskell gifted the pitcher to Grandma Sandburg (my great, great grandmother) who cared for her.
The notebook directed us to a hidden trunk where we found quilts, some made from hand carded wool by our great-great grandparents. And pinned to the quilt was a paper with more to the story which led us to find the antique brushes used to clean the wool.
We discovered Great Grandma King’s bread board, Grandpa Ray’s military uniform, Grandma’s diploma from nursing school, and even an album still in the envelope that was sent to Grandpa during the war. It was a recorded birthday message from Grandma to her darling dear.
The other notebook read like a journal. It seemed Grandma would take pen to paper when a memory struck and she’d write the story in her vernacular with feeling, detail, and commentary. It was as if she was sitting across the table, her head propped up with one hand as she rambled through her well lived life.
Towards the end of the day, Aunt Linda sighed, “What a gift Grandma has given us.”
What a gift indeed. Not only do we have her things, something to touch when we want one more suffocating Grandma June hug, but now we have the history. The stories that built our family legacy and will only serve to keep it for generations to come.
Not everything left the house Saturday. Grandpa Ray’s straw hat is still perched on the hook where he left it so many years ago. I don’t know if any of us will remove it. Stories or not, somethings are best left where they rest.