Hidden Treasures

Sympathy-cardI just discovered a  hidden treasure trove. I’m glad I didn’t give into the urge to purge. I almost tossed old sympathy letters unread. What relevance, I wondered, could I possibly find in condolence letters written to my now-deceased mother-in-law nearly fifty years ago when her husband died? What a surprise to find that I’m learning so much from reading between the lines.

I hardly knew my father-in-law, Ezra Lippincott. We never lived near them and had only been married six years when he died. Quite likely he found his son’s young wife as baffling as I found him. We never connected. My mother-in-law Blanche often spoke of memories involving him, but they usually included other people and things they did, and I still had little sense of what Ezzie was like.

Now I’m reading these letters, beautiful tributes from friends, colleagues and customers. “A remarkable human being.” “He was always there when anyone needed help.” “We’ll miss him terribly.” Some shared memories that I’ve never heard before. From these word scraps my dim, fuzzy picture, formed mainly from pictures and bare-bones stories, is fleshing out just a bit. He’s becoming more real.

As I read and consider, I’m reminded of three things of relevance for all of us who write:

People are naturally curious.

They want to know details. When we record the past in story form, we try our best to cover the basics and give a complete account. We may not know all the facts. We may run out of time and not finish the story. If this happens, don’t fret. Do the best you can. Someday someone may read whatever you were able to write and connect the dots, as I’m doing now. Their picture will sharpen from clues you do give.

People read between the lines.

Right now I’m filling in blanks in my image of Ezzie. I’m also reading between the lines to imagine how Blanche may have felt as she read these shimmering tributes. I did not know her well either at that time, and neither of us was good at expressing emotion. I had only a foggy notion what she was really going through, and I was too busy chasing my toddlers to give it much thought. Suddenly her loss seems poignantly real, and I grieve for that loss as I read.

Treasure artifacts.

I’m sorting because we’re preparing to sell our house and move from Pittsburgh to Austin. My intention is to lighten the load. But now that I’ve read these notes, I see that they are pieces of heart. Not only do they give a clearer picture of Ezzie, but they document the way people communicated back then – with pen and ink. They wrote and mailed deeply heart-felt messages. Only a few sent cards. I may scan the the messages in, but I’ll still save the originals. Some later generation can decide whether to continue keeping or toss.

For now, I’ll just finger my newly found treasures. Maybe later I’ll use some of these scraps in a story or few.

Write now: if you have old letters or photos, look through them. See what dots connect or how you read between lines to notice things more clearly today than you did in earlier times. Write a story about what you fine.


Jodi Ammon said...

I found some old letters that shed new light on my grandfather. I'd always thought he was a stern, gruff person. He always seemed to scowl. I was the youngest grandchild of a long line, so he was quite old when I knew him. Now I realize that what I thought of as a scowl may have mostly been a saggy face, and I don't think he was feeling well by then. No wonder he seemed grumpy! These letters were written to my grandmother while he was away on business trips, and they were so loving and tender -- not mushy -- just full of concern. Sweet! No grief in my case, just joy. Too bad we don't write letters anymore!

Linda said...

What treasures you discovered! Thanks for sharing with us writers what you learned from your discovery. Good stuff. I'll share it. :)

marian beaman said...

My blog posts are crammed full of scanned collectibles similar to these. I have saved cards and letters from Grandma, Mom, and Aunt Ruthie. I even have cards from Aunt Cecilia who turns 100 on March 28. Writing a tribute to her will easy because of the saved memorabilia and a husband who photoshops and scans for me. Yeah!

Recently, I found a St. Patrick's Day card my Pollyanna (so quaint!) sent to me at college in the 1960s. It will be the centerpiece of my March 17 post.

Moving for us too is coming down the pike. I can certainly relate to your closing comment: "I may scan the the messages in, but I’ll still save the originals. Some later generation can decide whether to continue keeping or toss."

Shauqtm Rahman said...
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Sharon Lippincott said...

You do have wonderful things on your blog Marian, and I hope readers will click your name to find it. You are fortunate to have so many kept treasures. Nobody in my family was a prolfiic correspondent. I lived in the same town as my parents, and Blanche's letters, bless her for writing them at all, were a series of terse headline reports.

I suppose rich correspondence is life other forms of lifewriting. Some treasured few did that, most did not. Some fortunate families will have volumes of story, most will not. It's a personal choice. Each of us must ask, "What's my role?" and follow the lead of our hearts