Last month I spent a couple of weeks getting my mom moved from the apartment where she’d lived over ten years into an assisted living apartment. It was quite a job, physically and emotionally, but mixed in with the exhaustion and the tedious sorting, shredding, and packing chores were quite a few delightful experiences.
One of them included finding a cloth-on-cardboard bound autobiography my father wrote for school when he was twelve years old. It’s dated May 23, 1933. The first thing I noticed when I opened the book was his beautiful penmanship. It was written in cursive, with ink.
The spelling and grammar are pretty darned good too.
Chapter One consists of a list of the names and birthdates of his four brothers, his parents’ names, and the tidbit that he was born at home on the farm.
Here’s Chapter Two: First Thing I Remember
“The first thing I remember was when we lived out on the farm. I had a brother who was four years old while I was only three. Our father bought a barrel of salt for the cows and to use making ice cream.
One day he went to town. My brother and I dumped the barrel over and strung the salt all over the barn Gee, the barn was a sight, and we had a peck of fun! But when our father came home it wasn’t as much fun as we thought[t].”
I learned a few things in that little book that I’d never known about my dad and his childhood, including the names of their pony (Fury) and their dog (Jiggs). Now I wonder how many other great stories I missed because Dad wasn’t much of a talker…or because I failed to ask.
Luckily, my mom has been very good about verbally sharing her life story over the years. During the big move, however, I discovered she’s also a closet writer. I found stories and personal essays and bits of memoir in some of the strangest places, including a folder full of old financial papers. I brought all that I could find home with me for typing and sharing with family. I hope I can convince her to write down more. I left a whole stack of pads and pens in a drawer not far from her favorite chair, just in case.
We can’t all count on these little treasures tucked away in boxes. We need to get together with our parents and grandparents when they’re young enough to remember and old enough to have time to reminisce. Treasures tucked away in aging minds may be lost by the time we think to ask the questions.