Hidden Treasure

I can’t say that I was looking forward to helping my mom prepare for her upcoming move into a retirement community.  I knew that my mom doesn’t make decisions easily, and would therefore need help in deciding exactly what she wanted to take with her into her new apartment.  And I also knew that Mom has a ton of stuff in her house to be sorted through, and that we’re going to have to figure out exactly what to do with all the things that she no longer wants.  Moving from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment requires some serious downsizing and a whole lot of time and work.

But while it hasn’t exactly been fun to spend hours on end at Mom’s house emptying out closets, sorting through her kitchen cabinets and opening all the boxes stored in her basement, there’s been an unexpected upside to this whole procedure.  Because while some of those boxes, drawers and closets are full of the stuff that probably should have been donated or thrown away years (if not decades) ago, we’ve also discovered some family things that have made all the effort worthwhile.

I found a scrapbook that my mom made for the 10th anniversary celebration of my dad’s ordination.  Sounds boring, I know, but that scrapbook was filled with photos of our family and articles about us that I hadn’t ever seen because I wasn’t living at home when Mom made the scrapbook.  Or when she decided to put it in a box and leave it in that unopened box during three subsequent moves.  (Now you see why I insist on opening all the boxes for this move.)

dS0lwqSCSwKbwC1WqL+ExwWe also found an invitation to wedding of my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother, which I plan to frame.  And it was great fun looking through the folder my parents had made when we were planning my wedding, especially when we looked at the prices that were being considered.  My dad had written, “I told them to forget it!” next to the name of one venue, so I guess it’s safe to assume that they were a bit more expensive than the $11.95 per person we eventually paid for my reception.

Going through Mom’s stuff has brought back so many memories.  I loved discovering letters written by relatives who died years ago, because it was almost as if I were hearing their voices again.  And finding the copy of my grandfather’s high school report card covered with B’s and C’s was a bit of a surprise, since I had always known him as a smart and successful dentist.  Discovering that he had struggled a little in high school made me realize how hard he must have worked for the success he achieved later in life, when he actually taught at dental school.

Some of the documents I found were sad, like the guest books for both of my great-grandparent’s funerals.  Even sadder were the telegrams to out-of-town relatives, informing them that my oldest sister died shortly after her premature birth, and asking them to reach out to my mother.  But all of it is a record of my family’s past, and therefore also a part of my past.

I am, and always will be, a strict minimalist who firmly believes in the old adage “less is more.”  But when it comes to the photos, documents, letters, etc. that record family history, I have come to believe that there is no such thing as too much.  It may not have a monetary value, but trust me me….it’s true treasure.

97 thoughts on “Hidden Treasure

  1. The word that comes to my mind is “bittersweet.” It also evokes feelings in me that, because my family was so dysfunctional (they invented the term!) that I missed out on the memories that you described. For that, I thank you for sharing your’s with me.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed my memories! I think all families have some level of dysfunction…mine certainly does….but it is said when it gets to the level where there aren’t any fond memories. I’m sorry that’s the case for you. I hope you have formed many strong and positive relationships with other people to carry you through!

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  2. What a treasure trove of memories you unlocked Ann. You’re right, there’s no such as thing as too many memories and momentoes of the past because sometimes that’s all we’re left with. As much as it’s good to look forward it’s also nice to remember (and discover) the past. Good luck sorting and culling your mum’s stuff. I know what a hard task it is!

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    • Thanks, Miriam! I can be hard, but discovering (sometimes for the first time) those little treasures really does help me tolerate the process. And it also helps to remember that we’re doing this so that Mom can enjoy her new apartment in a vibrant retirement community that is very close to us. Knowing there’s a reason for the hard work makes it easier for sure!

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    • Then you know what I’m talking about, don’t you, Jill? And you’re right, it’s the purging that leads us to actually go through our boxes and stacks of stuff, which is what leads us to discover our family treasures. So it’s all good!

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  3. I remember going through my parents’ home – the house they lived in when I was brought home from the hospital – after they both passed away. So many memories. I found things that I would have loved to know more about… but I had no one to ask. You are fortunate to have your mother to fill in the blanks for you. So many treasures.

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    • I bet there was so much to find if they had stayed in that house your entire life! But I’m sorry that you didn’t discover some of it until after they were gone. We are very lucky that Mom is still with us to tell us the story behind the things we find. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. Ann what a beautiful post. I was concerned that all the time and energy you would have to give to help your mom through this move would wear you out. And it may well do that. However finding all the treasures you are uncovering will make it all worth while. What wonderful finds and all the family history you are discovering. Saving things like that are worthwhile. See you in the morning Dianne

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  5. There are so many family treasures and information to pass down. I received the “boxes” of some of my ancestors and letters that are at least 100 years old. On the other hand, after going through both sets of our parent’s houses, we are starting to purge some of our belongings. My favorite find at my in-laws was the big box of twisty ties that were collected over many years.

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    • LOL! Yes there is the true treasure, like those 100-year old letters, and then there’s the “stuff” that you can’t even begin to understand why they saved. When we were going through my in-law’s house after they both passed away, I discovered a whole stack of envelopes that had been used to mail their annual permit to sell their vegetables at the local city market. Not the permits, mind you, just the envelopes that the permits had come in. I have no idea why they were all carefully saved!

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      • Like Christmas morning! ❤️Old letters are about my favorite things. Just a snippet in time, but it’s so cool to have something in someone’s handwriting. Recently my uncle sent me all the family history type stuff and there’s a lot of my grandma’s writing in there. She’s been gone 4 years now, so it’s nice to hold and read things that were hers.

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  6. I hope her move will go very well for her (and all of you). There are certainly gems to find in all a life’s/family’s downsizing. I found out online and 10 years after the fact that my father had died out on the other coast. It was then that I went through some boxes he left in my care, and found a sweet letter to him from his aunt whom we’d both loved so much. He was, you may recall from a blog post, a problem drinker. He’d alienated everyone.. but not her. She never gave up on him, and he kept that letter for decades. It was balm for him and me both. 🙂 Good luck with everything, Ann. ❤

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    • No, it’s not easy, but those little pieces of family history make it worthwhile. That, and keeping the purpose of all this work firmly in my mind: that Mom deserves to downsize into something easier to maintain in a community that is specifically designed for people her age. That helps!!! Thanks for the comment, Lisa!

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    • You are exactly right! It is a time machine of sorts to discover all these pieces of family history, and there is both happiness and sorrow in the memories. Sometimes it’s nice to take that trip down memory lane, even when the memories are sad….it’s a way of honoring our family’s past. Thanks for the comment!

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    • I can’t imagine how people would throw something like this away, although I know lots of people have no interest in old photos and documents, even from their own family. But to people who think the way we do, they are treasures indeed!

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      • They are! I have some pictures where I don’t know who many of the people are, but I still won’t get rid of them. My grandmother carefully added them to her photo album and wrote by some with white ink…they’re precious.

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  7. wow what amazing finds! And think of all that quality time with your Mother …

    I’ve had the job of culling my mothers possessions over the years as the siblings trust my judgement so fortunately we will not have that kind of accumulation 🙂

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  8. I can imagine Ann the wonderful conversations between you as you found these beautiful treasures and I’m sure they helped overcome some of the sadness of parting with lots of other possessions. I’m sure it was a lot of work but I bet you are glad now to have been part of it. Wishing your mum a happy and interesting new stage of life.

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  9. Your post really captures a time in life and a process that all everyone should get to experience. It’s great that your mom took such good care of these pictures and documents for you and future generations.

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    • I know! I was especially excited about the scrapbook, because so much of what was in there was new to me. But it also makes me sad to realize that our kids, and certainly our grandchildren, probably won’t have this experience. Now that we do so much of our communicating and living on-line, there won’t be these handwritten letters and official documents for us to leave behind!

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  10. What fantastic finds! Oh, yeah, I totally agree with you concerning treasures like these. KEEPERS! It’s your DNA on film, paper, and ink. One day others will be going through your stuff at the bottom of a trunk and will be wowed what they find about you and yours. Hugs from me & God’s grip – Alan

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    • Thanks so much, Alan! And yes, part of the joy of finding these documents is knowing that I can pass them along to my own children some day, as part of their family history. It does make me sad to think that in the future, there won’t be printed photos, handwritten letters or even official documents that we can savor this way. But time marches on, bring changes both good and bad!

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  11. Cleaning up and as in your case preparing for your mother’s move has always been tedious and time-consuming. But when you find a scrapbook with photos and other things things that trigger pleasant memories, the effort was indeed worthwhile and rewarding. Great post, Ann!

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  12. I’m still going through the old family documents that my mother had stashed away. It’s difficult to know what to do with some of them because like you said, there are some sad telegrams mixed in with happy letters. In keeping with the less is more idea, I decided that I will only keep family papers that in some way charm me, not because I’m supposed to. I feel rather rebellious saying that, let alone writing it here.

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    • I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all, Ally! You shouldn’t keep something because you feel you have to, you should keep it because you want to. So listening to your heart is a great way to decide what to keep and what to let go of, I think.

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  13. How lovely, most of my family history is vague stories, coz no one bothered to record it and now they’re all gone. It’s kind of important to know where you come from……..I’ve seen the ‘who d’you think you are ‘ programme.

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    • I haven’t seen that program, but it sounds interesting! And yes, I know I’m lucky that some of these things were saved and written down. A couple of years ago, my sisters and I gave Mom a journal (complete with questions as prompts) for her to write down some of the facts and stories of her life. I’m so glad she’s taken the time to write in it…because you know how much we’ll appreciate having those stories when she’s gone!

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  14. It is good that you are there to help your mother prepare for the next stage in her life. I know it means a lot to her that you are there for her.

    God bless both of you

    El dom., 8 de septiembre de 2019 3:35 p. m., Muddling Through My Middle Age escribió:

    > Ann Coleman posted: “I can’t say that I was looking forward to helping my > mom prepare for her upcoming move into a retirement community. I knew that > my mom doesn’t make decisions easily, and would therefore need help in > deciding exactly what she wanted to take with her into ” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that one really surprised me, and I want to get it framed while it’s still intact. For some reason, they were married on a Wednesday night, and from the address, I think the wedding might have been at their parents’ home. I’ll have to research it a bit. But still, I was so happy to find the wedding invitation to my great-grandparent’s wedding, over a hundred years ago! That alone was worth all the work!

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  15. My mother is a genealogist and has saved tons of things! When she moved she parceled it out to family. I have a huge stack of family photos that help me fill in the blanks. I even have 8mm movies my dad took when in college and when my mother was pregnant with me!! They contain so many good memories!

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    • Oh, you are so luck y that your mother saved all that stuff! So many people toss out the valuable family artifacts and save the useless tupperware…. And you are especially lucky to have the movies. That is so cool!

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    • Exactly, Linda! I feel as if it is a part of my history, too. We just save the best of it, with the hopes of passing it down to future generations. Plus, reading through the letters and documents makes our ancestors come alive! Thanks so much for your comment.

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  16. We are moving and moving on leaving memories behind ..a good and not….someone will have a look at ours also so, we must feel them proud when they have a look at ours not to feel bad. Let’s do such good and best deeds to leave the good memories behind. Right?

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  17. Ann, what a gift to have all of those documents to read, a window into lives that came before you. It makes me want to start writing letters again in cursive on pretty paper. When my grandmother passed away I got all the letters I wrote to her. It just doesn’t feel the same as email.
    I wonder if reading through the past helped you to transition forward?

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    • Actually, it did! I found even more letters yesterday, and some of them were really touching to read. They helped explain the dynamics in my family that I hadn’t understood before, so that does make it easier to look toward the future with more compassion and understanding. I’m so glad you got the letters you wrote to your grandmother back! Those are sort of like a journal that reveals what you thought and were doing at a different stage of your life. I really hope letter writing doesn’t become completely lost in this new age of technology. Reading letters from long-gone ancestors is a gift that I would hope everyone can experience!

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    • It does take so much time to go through boxes of photos, doesn’t it? That’s why I try so hard to put my photos in albums, where they’re easier to manage. But even with the work, it’s fun to look through old photos now and then and have so many memories triggered. Good for you for keeping those family photos!!

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  18. I was spared ever having to go through my parent’s stuff, as I have a sister who lived nearby while I was halfway across the country, but I suspect a serious downsizing of our own stuff might lead to similar memories. I don’t know if any would go back as far as the nuggets in your trove, but hopefully they’d have as much value.

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    • My guess is that they will have value, Dave! The really old stuff is fun, but anything that evokes fond memories, or even helps you look at the people in your family with more compassion and understanding is something to be treasured.

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  19. Such an interesting post to me Ann, on many levels…

    After my grandfather died, years ago, my mother was clearing through his things and found heaps and heaps of letters. They were all in yiddish and or Hebrew and she didn’t have the patience to go through them, especially given the foreign languages. So she tossed them all. She is one for throwing rather than saving. A few weeks later she was contacted by my family in Israel who heard of my grandfathers death and asked my mother to please send them the personal letters that had been written over years and years of communication. That was rather an awkward realisation for her that she had just tossed away something that someone else would have treasured.

    I think finding these items can be very revealing and as well can make us nostalgic and or sad… but are an interesting connection to our personal histories.

    Peta

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    • That must have been so hard! But I can understand why your mother threw them out, since she couldn’t read them and so they didn’t mean anything to her. It’s just too bad she didn’t realize that his relatives in Israel would have loved to have them! The bottom line is, the only thing that makes something valuable is if someone actually values it. I’m one of those who does value old family photos, letters, etc., so it’s all treasure to me!

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  20. Hi Ann, I am sorry to hear that your mother cannot stay in her home, but happy to know that you have found a good apartment for her to move in to. Finding her personal items is like opening a time capsule. It makes me wonder what things I should throw away and what I should box up and keep for my own future time capsule.

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    • That’s always a tough choice, isn’t it? Personally, I keep things that reflect family history that I think others will treasure. But it is hard to know just exactly what of our things someone else would actually want. As for my mom, no worries….she’s actually looking forward to the move. The house has become more of a chore than a joy for her, and she is ready for a smaller home with lots of other people around 24/7. I hope the move goes well though. I have a feeling I’ll be writing about it!

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