I was driving home from work tonight listening to NPR. There was a story about a man who found some letters that his grandfather had written during WWl and he started a blog where he published these letters. He was most grateful for the fact that he was getting to know a side of his grandfather he had never known.
It made me think of the following story.
My grandfather died 7 years ago. My grandmother 6 years before that. These were my daddy’s parents who lived right next door to us. They moved down off the mountain when my daddy was just a boy and had lived in the same house for 60 years.
After my grandfather died, the house sat there for a couple of years. Occasionally there would be talk of renting it out but somehow my daddy just couldn’t bring himself to do that. Emotionally it would have been hard to see someone else living there and there was also a tremendous amount of cleaning out that would have had to happen. None of us were quite up to the task and so other than getting rid of some stuff right after they both died, the house had basically remained untouched.
But then my parents decided that they were going to sell their place and my grandparent’s place and move out on the mountain. So my brother and my sister and I gathered at my parent’s house one weekend to help them do the big clean out. I think it was the first time in probably 15 years that the five of us were together as a family without a spouse or kids there. It was just us.
We joked that we thought we might find some treasure in the attic. Wouldn’t it be great to find some jewelry or money stuffed in a jar or some antique something or another that we could take to Antiques Roadshow and find out it was worth a million dollars!
What we found was a least 200 empty plastic milk cartons(no, I have no idea what she was going to do with them), an infant seat from my babyhood, old tax returns and bags and bags of scraps of fabric from when she worked at the shirt factory.
It looked as though our treasure hunt was over and we were empty handed.
And then one of us found an old shoe box. Underneath some old receipts and magazines and other junk was our treasure. Letters. Some with holes eaten through them by silverfish, but still readable. Letters addressed by my grandmother’s hand and then some with my daddy’s handwriting on the front.
That night we all sat down and put them in order by postmark. And we read them.
There were letters written to my grandfather from my grandmother before they were married. Sweet innocent letters that showed us that they had been just like any other two young people in love. My grandmother would often end her sentences with a jaunty, “Ha!”, which we found very funny.
There were also letters written by my father when he was away at college. He spoke about his grades and his friends. He tried to convince his parents that he was studying ALL the time (doubtful). And in one letter he mentioned meeting this cute brunette named Jean who would eventually become their daughter in law.
One letter talked about plans my dad had made to drive to Jackson, TN to visit a friend and how the weather was calling for snow. We all looked at the date on that letter with amazement. We had always heard about the day that my grandmother’s daddy had died and how our daddy (who thought the very world of his grandfather) had driven for hours and hours in a snowstorm to return home from a weekend trip when he heard the news of Poppa’s death. It was that very weekend he was talking about in his letter.
We read these letters and we laughed. We read some more and we cried. It was somehow just perfect that it was the five of us there. That we had found this wonderful thing together. And that we could share those memories in our childhood home.
We found treasure all right.