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Grandmas Boxes: The Puzzling Newspaper Article

by Roberta McReynolds

Five rows of boxes stretched across the backyard, one representing each of Grandmas adult children. Overflowing corrugated cartons all sorted, labeled and waiting to be claimed, because Grandma was moving and it wasnt going with her. Thats not to say that she didnt continue her destiny as a self-proclaimed storage facility. She just wasnt taking this particular mountain of memorabilia with her.

I doubt that I was more than seven years old, but I can still recall that snap-shot moment vividly. The lawn looked like a store warehouse without price tags! My mother gently herded me away from the four columns belonging to my uncles and aunts. Although too young to be a much of a mathematician, I still got the general notion that 20% of the treasure was coming home in our station-wagon.

I peered into the boxes with a thrill that somehow seemed missing from Dads demeanor. His siblings wore similar expressions. They surveyed the accumulation of decades of schoolwork, games, books and hobbies with somber resolution. Occasionally they rolled their eyes at each other, looking for empathy. Their mother was a diligent salvager and they had been clueless how thoroughly she had accomplished her mission until this point in time.

Grandma stood poised at the backdoor looking like a living photograph in the doorframe. Her characteristic stance with right hand balanced on her hip and the other at her throat fingering the collar of her dress, shouted matriarch. She was pleased with a job well done and anticipated nothing but happy reactions.

No one dared speak aloud the common thought between them, "What am I going to do with all this stuff?" A single complaint would be received as trivial and ungrateful. My grandmother was going to live in a small cabin in the mountains. It was time to pass childhood keepsakes to their rightful owners. The problem, as I see it some fifty-odd years later, was that she was the only one who considered these things valuable.

I sat next to my fathers boxes, guarding them lest anyone should snatch some of our treasure. I realize now the greater risk would have been from someone shoving part of their inheritance over into Dads row while he wasnt paying attention.

Each branch of the family dutifully gathered their 1/5-share of boxes and carted them off to waiting vehicles destined for separate households. I suspect spouses stood lookout for any unauthorized sharing throughout the process.

I recall that Grandma saved many of my fathers school assignments. There were a few unfamiliar games and simple old-fashioned toys from an era I was too young to understand. Mom gave me a handmade elephant cut from a single sheet of wood to appease my curiosity. It once had four legs nailed to the body simulating joints. Only two legs remained, but my imagination compensated for the poor animal. I also received a die-cut tin dairy cow that had served as an advertisement for pasteurized milk delivery. Its legs had been carefully bent opposite directions, just above the hooves, so it could stand up. I imagine there may have once been a small herd of tin cows grazing on Grandmas living room rug.

The rest of the contents of our boxes were packed away and all but forgotten. A few games surfaced years later, but by then I had outgrown my interest in the old, dusty objects. The colorful pages of thick department store catalogs delivered to our mail box vied for my attention with an entire section devoted to new and exciting toys for children. How could a two-legged elephant be expected to compete with a fashion doll? A magical, shiny red plastic Etch-A-Sketch easily won favor over a game I didnt recognize, packaged in a box with broken down sides and missing instructions.

Ironically, my grandmother was implicated in the decision when I inherited my own row of boxes. I was married and had a son. Grandma wasnt able to spend the snowy winters alone in the mountains any longer and needed to take turns living with her childrens families each year until the spring thaw. My old bedroom was needed as a spare room when Grandma visited, so all those once-exciting catalog purchases from my youth were gathered up and exported to my address.

I received the full lot (without another sibling to share the wealth): selected schoolwork and report cards, a full library of children’s books, a family of fashion dolls plus wardrobes and accessories, enough stuffed animals for a zoo, an enormous herd of horse figurines, and games (with broken down sides and missing instructions of course).

The shelves in my former childhood bedroom didn’t stay empty for long. They became a repository for Dad’s boxes next to a stash from Mom’s side of the family as well. (Is there any doubt where this was all going to end up someday?) No one was aware of it at the time, but during her annual migration Grandma occasionally slipped an additional box into the inventory.

Her time capsules would not be discovered for over twenty years until I was preparing to sell the house after my parents passed away fifteen months apart, both from cancer. Prolonged shock might be one way to describe my state of mind. So when I recognized that my grandmother had added to the estate, it wasn’t high on my list of priorities to investigate.

When I got around to examining her boxes I had the impression that the contents were arranged to make sense to me, working on the assumption that she understood I would be the one to discover them someday. (If you are listening, Grandma, it would have made the process much easier if you had included a letter or two explaining a few things!)

One item was a brief newspaper article reporting a young man had been given a party during his 15-day furlough. He was returning to Colorado Springs, Colorado where he was stationed with the 15th Air Force Headquarters in the photo laboratory service during WWII. I didn’t recognize the name, but it was significant in some way, or it wouldn’t have been clipped and saved. The word ‘photo’ should have been my first clue and that a connection to my father was all but guaranteed, but I don’t remember thinking about it at the time.

Eventually I was able to assemble a photo album featuring Grandma’s four siblings and a little about her parents. Things fell into place chronologically with letters and post cards enriching the history. Another album covered the era when Grandma was married and raising a large family.

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