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Bearing Witness
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jducoeur
One of this evening's projects was digging through the upper shelves of the closets, full of mysterious boxes that I've never even known the provenance of. Some of the findings were as expected, items for the giveaway: random costume jewelry, some cheap furs, a rather too frilly bathrobe, and a variety of purses. (Including the spare Coach bag that she bought and never opened, just in case Coach stopped making tasteful purses.)

And then the more personal items began to appear:
  • A box of more personal jewelry from Jane, only a few items of which I can guess the significance of.

  • Her grandmother's Eastern Star effects: bible, jewelry, ritual book and gavel.

  • Jane's baby albums, and various other boxes of items from her childhood.

  • Her parents' marriage ceremony and certificate.

  • Her grandfather's personal diary, started in 1913.

  • A box of her mother's correspondence during WWII, clearly to The Other Man -- and one of her father's early photos, presumably from his first marriage.
And I find myself strangely split, between feeling like a peeping tom into these people who I barely know -- and feeling like I've been handed a sacred duty to bear witness to their lives. Jane was an only child, and her parents were never that close to their families, at least in Jane's lifetime. In many of these cases, I *am* the remaining family.

The griefquake is mild, but the sense of responsibility is strange and a bit daunting. Jane and I knew each other so well, and yet I only really know our lives together. There is so much history, so many people standing behind her who I never knew. At some point, these boxes must be properly and respectfully pulled out, and those lives explored...
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I found some things that belonged to my husband's ex-wife, or rather, things that were a part of their life together. I did the right thing by sending those to her.

I also sent to his eldest son the Box of History that Brian had been saving and collecting over the years.

Though some of his family have been poisonous to me, I don't regret my actions.

I've thought about that occasionally. Robert has an older half sister, and cousins that he isn't close to and I've never met. He brought back a whole bunch of photos, letters, mementos of his father's military service, and other such things when his mother died and he had to clean out her house. I have no idea what I would do with them if I were the survivor. If it were my parent's stuff it would be easier -- the historical society for the town my family's lived in forever would be a good place for a lot of it. But on my side we have my nephew to continue the family and thereby ensure a home for the family history.

This is a quandry. I have things from three fairly distinct family branches. Anything from my father's side would want to go to my half-sister, or her heirs. On my maternal grandmother's side, there is a 2nd cousin who might want the old family photos, even if we don't know who is in most of them. The old photos which are probably from my paternal grandfather's family are a dilemma. So far as I know I'm the last descendant, unless my great grandparents had siblings who had families somewhere. I hate to think of them ending up in some flea market or antique shop because nobody wanted them, but that's still probably better than going straight to the landfill.

I'd say if Jane preserved those items, that she'd be pleased to have you look at them, because that keeps the memory of those people alive a little longer. You might consider scanning the letters and diary for posterity. They may be of interest to historians.

Yes! A personal diary begun in 1913 means that it was probably kept through WWI? That would be quite interesting to read, even though this person would be a relative stranger to me.

Hadn't thought about scanning -- that's a good idea...

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"Some of the findings were as expected, items for the giveaway"

We have rented a truck and will be cleaning out the storage units tomorrow morning, so that Sunday (5/8) we can lay everything out in preparation for everyone who is coming to look at it (starting that Sunday, actually). So if you go to drop things off and the units are empty (except for the comics), don't panic - you haven't been the victim of a very selective theft.

Thus - do you still have these things at your house, and should I drop by tonight or tomorrow night to pick them up, or can you get them into storage tonight (or maybe you already did)?

There is still some sorting to do, mostly for accessories and perfume. Can I bring some additional items by early next week?

Sure! Just let me know what night, so I can be home early enough (i.e., before 9 p.m.). Joan & Deb are coming by Tuesday night, so I will be home then, at least, and I expect to be home several other evenings as well, if needed.

Okay, cool. I *may* take off early from work today and make some progress, but I'll do additional organizing and cleanout early next week as seems appropriate...

It can't be easy at all to see these things and not know what they mean or how best to honor their memory. In my case, I "inherited" my mom's stuff after she passed. It's daunting, all right. Even if I know in general something was important, I don't know why most of the time. Sometimes I can find meaning in what is left, and sometimes I know others will find meaning in it--for example, her high school sounded really happy about getting her old yearbooks and souvenirs.

It's unspeakably hard to see things I know had context once, but have no clue what that context may be. It really does feel like a sacred trust to ensure that those things are appreciated and re-attached to the tapestry. You're in my thoughts as you go through the closets. Be well.

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