One of the reasons why downsizing from this point will be difficult for me is that I've already discarded much of the stuff that doesn't mean much to me. What's left behind is furniture that came from my grandmother, furniture that my spouse and I chose, furniture from my spouse's family, and a few pieces that we may or may not keep.
One of the pieces that has a hold on both my spouse and me is the rolltop desk. It's the place where my grandfather wrote his sermons during his life as a pastor in the Lutheran church (the more liberal kind, not the conservative kind). I wrote my first short story that worked for adult readers on that rolltop desk. It's a huge, beautiful piece of furniture--and it's well designed, in that the three parts aren't permanently attached, so we can move it as we need to--I cannot say the same thing for the behemoth of a sofa that we've kept from the furnished condo that we bought for my spouse's mother and sold after her death. That condo had exquisite furniture, but we couldn't keep much of it.
But I digress. Back to the current adventure with the rolltop desk. A few weeks ago, we moved the desk so that the flooring in the front bedroom could be done. When we picked up the top, and tilted it to get it through the door, some papers fell out. When we moved it again on Friday, additional papers fell out
We've moved it several times before, and nothing has fallen out. What fell out this time is, in a way, nothing profound. There were some scraps of paper that might have once had writing on them, but now, they are blank with a patina of aged paper. But there were some letters.
These letters, too, are not exactly profound. Two of them seem to be from relatives. It's the kind of letter that my grandmother used to write: musings on the weather, updates on the garden, chatty talk about various people (who wore what to church), that kind of thing. But every so often, there's a line that makes me slow down my reading: "Homer has been having lots of heartburns lately and wonder if it's heart attacks ? ? -- This trucking business is breaking him fast
. We lost
on the green stuff New Year's week -- Now they are trying to sell a load of fruit. Write us in '52. Love, Rosalyn" There's a P.S. on the front of the little card that talks about hard times convincing Harold and Homer to forget about the new truck that would cost $10,000, and she's not sorry about that.
Because I know the family history, I know that Mrs. Homer Roof (the return address on the envelope) would be on my grandfather's side in Lexington, SC. Both my grandmother and grandfather came from farming families, as did so many people in the early part of the 20th century. But as a child growing up in the 70's, I saw it from a different perspective than the letter writer. We visited the family land in Lexington, SC, and Greenville, TN, and they seemed like vast, flourishing farms to me. I knew from talking to a great uncle that it had been tough in the Great Depression, but at least they always had food to eat, because they could grow it or raise it. They might have had holes in their shoes, but they didn't go hungry.
It's interesting to come across a letter from '52 that shows the worry. Homer would live--I met him when I was young. Rosalyn outlived him by many decades, as is the way in my mother's side of the family, the women outliving the men.
The letter we found in the Friday move of the desk was in an envelope that people used to use to send letters across the ocean. It was addressed to my grandfather--no street address, just Greenville, TN. It has a postmark of January 1945. My grandparents weren't world travelers, and they never mentioned anyone that they knew overseas.
The letter is from someone who is serving in the Solomon Islands--I think. The writing is faint. There's a thank you from the writer to my grandfather and the church for sending the box. I can't tell what was in the box, but from the postmark, I'm guessing it's some sort of care package to a military person.
Since I can't remember the history of World War II in the Pacific, I Googled it, of course--and immediately felt ashamed of my ignorance. How could I not remember that Guadalcanal was part of the Solomon Islands?
The letter feels historic, and yet I know that there must be thousands, millions, just like it. Or that there were, but now decades later, most of them are gone--another reason why this letter feels precious, even though I didn't know the letter writer. My grandfather didn't mean to preserve it--I'm guessing it was part of a pile of paperwork that somehow got caught between the back of the desk and the cubbyhole insert. Perhaps it got rolled back, although I don't remember my grandparents ever closing the rolltop desk--but who knows how they used the desk in 1945.
I will keep the letters. I had an unsettling moment yesterday where I looked for the letters that fell out of the desk a few weeks ago, and I couldn't find them. I knew that I wouldn't have thrown them away--but where did I put them for safekeeping?
Later in the evening, as I was trying to calm my anxiousness (that anxiousness from sunset, and from not being able to find those letters, and from watching my spouse paint the closet doors, and from the chaos of a home remodel), I turned to my prayer book to read through Compline. There were the family letters.
I called out to my spouse, "I found the letters!" When I told him that I must have put them in my prayer book for safekeeping, he said, "Well, that's a good place for them."
I know that I should do something to keep them from decaying--although, as I reflect on that statement, I know that paper is a much more stable storage system than many choices I could make. I'll likely put them in a big envelope and save them.
Will historians ever be interested? Will the next person who inherits my papers care that I saved them? I have no idea.
I will take them with me to Thanksgiving--my family members should be interested at least.