Forgotten things can reveal the past
Monday, May 12, 2014 4:53 AM
It's amazing what one can find when getting ready -hopefully - for a move. (We have listed our house for sale and that means a lot of preparation!) I am not a saver, so I don't have a whole lot of "stuff" such as souvenirs or wedding invitations or birthday cards that needs to be sorted or packed. But I have found a few surprises.
For many years I did move one piece of furniture around the country that I thought contained what little I had "saved." It was my mother's "hope chest," something, many years ago, every young woman in her youth received as a gift. Then when people gave her a birthday or Christmas gift, it was often something to add to the hope chest. The hope was someday she would get married, so the chest was originally filled with crochet-edged pillow cases, embroidered dish towels, doilies, maybe even some bed sheets or larger items.
By the time I acquired this cedar chest, it contained my mother's wedding dress along with the shoes she wore back in January of 1936 and even the white silk stockings. There were also a few things from my own childhood, such as a beautiful and lovingly-crafted red plaid pleated wool skirt and coordinated red bomber jacket trimmed in the plaid, which I had proudly worn. My mother was a very good seamstress who made most of our clothes before my parents expanded their business and she was way too busy.
Not so long ago, I passed the hope chest along to my niece, along with anything in it that had not originally been mine. In exchange, I got the promise that it would be cared for and in turn passed along to the next generation.
Now, in this current effort to cull things before another move, I found things I had forgotten about and even some things I did not know I had or where I had gotten them.
One of the surprises was my grandfather's bank savings book from 1912 to 1914. His account - or at least his account as it is recorded in this book - started with several small deposits, some as low as $5. And over the period of those few years, the balance just kept growing and, at one point, was almost to $1,700. That had to have been a huge sum back then, especially considering the size of his family. It was before my mother was born, but he already had at least six or seven children. Of course, now I am curious about what he was saving for, and where the money originated. And now there is no one left to ask!
Tucked inside that bank book was a receipt for a four-year subscription to the local newspaper for the period from 1916 to 1920 . Between the last date of the bank book and the date of this receipt, the family had obviously moved because the two towns are not even close to each other; it is my impression that they moved a lot until they settled in the town where I grew up. Maybe the money he had been saving was used for those moves. Or maybe it was used for their businesses; my grandmother ran a restaurant and my grandfather was a self-employed carpenter. My grandmother once told me the only time she got to sit down when she was a young mother and running a business was when she had to nurse a baby.
She used to entertain us kids with a lot of stories about her youth when she came to the U.S. from Norway. She came with her family at about age 12; they settled way up in northern Minnesota and their first home was a sod hut close to a riverbank. Her father was a farmer and she and her sister were in charge of milking the cows. She said it always took two to do that in the summertime, because the mosquitoes and flies were so bad one did the milking while the other one waved away the pesky bugs. In the wintertime, and obviously after regular structures were built, they often got from the house to the barn by hanging onto a rope connecting the two buildings.
She said the prairie grass was so tall that if a child went into it, she or he could get lost. When that grass caught fire, it was deadly. She talked about how bad it was when the kids got sick, because any help was so far away. In fact, she herself lost three babies (triplets) in their infancy and another child when he was 11.
My grandmother was Lena Lund and married Ole Peterson (my grandfather). He had come from Norway with his brother when he was 16. They met in northern Minnesota, where they had both "landed" when they arrived in the U.S.
And yes, they really were named Ole and Lena, but I don't think the jokes were around back then; at least I never heard one. I hope my grandmother never did either.
Having our house for sale creates the need to keep on with this process of opening a couple of long-forgotten containers. I'm finding there are some surprises.
Since I am not yet at the bottom of the box containing what else was left in the hope chest, I am sure there will be some more. It makes the job a lot more entertaining, even if it does take longer.