The task seemed overwhelming! As the years drop away, cardboard boxes on closet shelves stack up. Pat and I have been on a mission to sort through every inch of storage space and to clean out.
The mysterious boxes on a high shelf in the spare bedroom held treasures, not in monetary measure but lost and found items from my family's past. There were the romantic greeting cards between my parents in their early years, Mother's salutatory speech from her Lewiston High School graduation of 1934, war ration books, tablets of family expenditures, and on and on.
The story has always been that both of my grandfathers had passed away peacefully with heart attacks behind the wheels of their vehicles. The yellow, flimsy newspaper articles and memory cards of their deaths, which substantiate that story, have been found!
"Otto R. Wollin, 67, well-known Bethany farmer and civic leader, suffered a fatal heart attack in his truck on August 31, 1949. Mister Wollin was an elder of the Bethany Moravian Church the past eight years, served as town clerk for Utica since 1941, and was a director of the Bethany creamery for many years."
The Wollin farm, my mother Meta's homestead, was a beloved gathering place for family, friends, and fishermen who often made their way down the rugged, rocky Whitewater Valley hill at their road's dead-end.
"Harry E. Lewis, 65, suffered a heart attack in his car on November 4,1950. A pheasant he had shot was beside him. Mr. Lewis operated a trucking business with his sons after their family moved to Lewiston in 1936. His son Donald was still in business with him."
"Mr. Lewis's death saddened the community, as everyone was a friend of this man who spent much of his life doing unselfish deeds and because his interest in sports became well known in the area. He was a charter member of the Lewiston Sportsmen's Club and a trustee of the church of the Brethren for many years."
I had lost track of a photo of Dad sitting at our dining room table. There it was, in the box with his funeral book. There, also, was the dilapidated, oblong box where I knew my mother's wedding dress was. It's so small! I wistfully remember that I had fit into that dress during the program at Lewiston's 125th anniversary in 1988.
Another box contained the funeral book of Dad's youngest sibling, Dorothy Mae Lewis. She had passed away at 36 years of age. Her luxurious suede, fur-lined jacket was given to me. I wore it to Homecoming in my senior year, 1962. Aunt Dorothy was an alcoholic. Our father was always there for her.
She often stayed at our home, where some of her things were stored so she wouldn't hock them all for booze. I remember her Adam's Rib cologne, a friend Ernie, their small pet dog Sixty, many sad blues records, her ducktail and a strong smell of cigarettes, stories of her wild adventures and her scars, and how she giggled like Dad (who never drank a drop).
Though I knew Aunt Dorothy Mae was buried in the St Charles cemetery along Highway 14, it was just ten years back that Pat and I finally located her small, plain marker against a rusty barbed wire fence entwined with weeds in the N.E. corner.
I recall small bits and pieces of my grandmothers. They looked more like grandmas should, with their gray hair, flowered dresses, cotton aprons, and clumsy shoes.
"Mrs. Harry Lewis died suddenly on a family picnic at Merrick State Park near Fountain City while celebrating her 66th birthday. The former Elsie Sumner is the daughter of Eugene and Margaret Stewart Sumner."
I've always harbored the memory of her flapping a tablecloth across a picnic table when she collapsed. A glimpse of her fingernails turning blue haunted me for years.
"Mrs. Otto Wollin, 76, died of a heart aliment in her farm home in Bethany. The former Emma Esta Schwager is the daughter of William and Emilie Schwager."
I remember this sweet and pleasant lady, how she would untwist the bun she wore her hair in and brush the long salt and pepper tresses past her waist.
As one ages, we look back, attempting to salvage recollections of the past"¦we find, beyond nostalgia, puzzle pieces of the person we've become.
Janet Burns has been a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.