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Generations Past

August 27th, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:




My cousin Laramie contacted me last week and made arrangements to pick up our great-grandmother’s china cabinet.

The cabinet had been handed down to me by my father. When I was ready to let it go, Laramie seemed like the logical cousin to take ownership because this piece of furniture had been in his house when he was growing up.

It’s a large piece, five feet wide, six feet high and 15 inches deep, and has three vertical sections. The right and left sides have curved glass doors with shelves inside. The center section has a glassed-in area at the top with two shelves. Below that is a fold-out secretary with a bunch of cubbyholes, and below that are three drawers.

With Laramie coming, I needed to empty the cabinet. I don’t have china, but I do have a lot of books, and that’s what filled the two sides of the cabinet. In the center section, I kept family treasures – and I hadn’t gone through those things for ten years.

Removing the dozens of books was the easy part. I stacked them on a dresser until I can buy a new bookcase. And I filled two boxes to take to the library for the Friends of the Library sale in October.

Going through the family items took a lot of time, looking at this and reading that. It was an interesting mix of intergenerational treasures.

I found my own 9th grade report cards. During one grading period in algebra, Mr. Alyward gave me a “U” for unsatisfactory in citizenship. As my mind returned to those days of being 14, I understood. I must have talked back too many times. From the boldness of the letter “U,” Mr. Aylward seemed to express a certain pleasure in making that mark.

But most of the belongings were from previous generations, one of which was my dad’s identification bracelet that he may have worn in his teenage years. I ran across a plastic letter opener with the name of my dad’s business printed on it. It’s now sitting on my desk, ready for envelopes in need of opening.

From a drawer, I pulled out a flat pin cushion about the size of a wall clock. On it was my grandmother’s collection of deadly hat pins. I stabbed myself just moving the cushion. I wonder how many women had bleeding scalps from those four-inch pins and how many women lost an eye as a result of hat-attaching accidents.

When my grandmother was about 20, she attended a school in Hillsboro. A few letters dated 1917 and 1918 had been saved and were addressed to Grandma from her cousin Daisy. Daisy told Grandma about local news: a broken engagement of friends, a funeral, church activities, family gatherings.

In a letter dated March 10, 1918, Daisy wrote about traveling to a party. “While we were going down there we seen the Northern lights. They shone 2 times. I seen them just the first time. It almost scared us when we seen them.”

And I ran across a paper trail from an even earlier generation – a typed letter dated March 26, 1913, written to my great-grandfather, Sam Schultz, from Detroit Engine Works. It is a response to Sam’s complaint about not being able to start his new Detroit Kerosene Portable Stationary Engine.

The letter suggested that perhaps Sam flooded the engine and it gives step-by-step starting instructions, warning Sam: “Do not leave the adjusting screw on the fuel feeder open too long when you are turning over the fly wheels unless the engine starts right off on the prime… .” It then gives details on how to prime the engine. I can only guess that Sam figured out the new-fangled equipment.

In the cabinet, I also found two editions of the Pawnee Rock Herald. These newspapers from 1926 and 1928 had an abundance of local news. You learned who “motored over from Larned on Sunday,” who was “not feeling at all well these days,” and who sent a postcard home from Colorado.

While reading old letters or newspapers, we feel like we’re there, too, seeing the Northern Lights with Daisy, or priming an engine with Sam in 1913. As we imagine these people and these moments, it’s as if their lives have transcended time.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh

columns, life on the ground, nostalgia

  1. August 27th, 2013 at 15:37 | #1

    I loved this. Especially when Daisy “seen” the northern lights. That made me so happy.

  2. August 27th, 2013 at 16:39 | #2

    Yeah, me too, Mary. 🙂

  3. Flips
    August 27th, 2013 at 19:27 | #3

    LOVED IT!!!!!

  4. August 27th, 2013 at 22:21 | #4

    Another great article Cheryl, I love to hear about the folks that have gone on. They were so “down to earth”. I knew your grandparents well and miss them as well as many others.