Boxes in the Basement

“We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.” — Shirley Abbott

Months ago, I wrote about dividing up  Aunt Sue’s china, crystal, silverware, tea service, and jewelry among family members. Most of her valuables have been passed on.  On our Christmas Eve Eve celebration, I’ll set our table with her English Staffordshire dishes, and we’ll think of Sue.

But china and silverware weren’t the only things left to us. Several boxes have sat untouched, and Mike and I assured ourselves last winter that we’d go through them all, sorting the family pictures, discarding snapshots of strangers, and whittling down the stack of boxes into a smaller and more organized collection of memorabilia. One early December day, I suggested to Mike that we dig in, but he begged off. Too much to do. We left the task for another time.

Last week, though, I decided to rummage through the boxes on my own. Maybe I couldn’t identify all the people in the photos, but there might be some other stuff worth seeing. I headed downstairs, dragged a box over to the couch, and traveled back in time. Hours later, I lifted my head to discover that I was still in my own home and it was 2015.

Telegrams. A notebook filled with recipes. A tattered red Girl Graduate scrapbook from 1913-1914, Mike’s grandmother Catherine’s  keepsake from the College of St. Theresa.

Letters. From a father to his oldest daughter, beautifully written pages sent weekly during 1950. Mary was working in Milwaukee, Henry (Dad) and Catherine (Mother) lived in Spokane, where he’d been transferred. Henry mentions Mary’s  beau,  gives advice for planning a cross-country driving trip, describes his International Harvester corporate life, and refers to his Sunday night ritual of listening to Jack Benny.

More letters written in 1952 from Henry to his second daughter. Sue was in Minneapolis, and in love with her Air Force fiancé Ray stationed in Texas.  Their August 28 wedding was planned long-distance. On July 16, Henry wrote to Ray, filling him in on the scheduled events surrounding the marriage celebration. Henry did not live to walk his daughter down the aisle.

Yellowed newspaper clippings from the Minot (North Dakota) Daily News. Our Sue’s weekly Window Shopper column advisedthe ladies of Minot on fashion and gift-buying, her feature stories shed a light on interesting Minot residents.

I’m fascinated, mesmorized. What riches I’ve discovered, all worthy of archiving. But how? These gems are too lovely to molder away in a box in the basement. Can I weave the letters into a story? Can I create a chronicle worth reading?  The box might be my muse, but an elusive one.

Readers, I need advice. Where should I go from here?








6 thoughts on “Boxes in the Basement

  1. Check out The Malevolent Matriarch (still in the works) on my blog. I had the idea to use my great grandmother’s letters to formulate a modern day blog, inspired by her writings. She wrote between 1940 and 1952, and honestly, she wasn’t the most kind person; she was downright nasty. I noticed my blood pressure rising reading her words, 64 years after she passed away. Imagine. So, I was inspired to preserve what happened in the family during those years–my father’s childhood–for my children. It’s a monumental task, but very interesting and it has answered many of the unknowns. I’ve posted a couple of intro posts, and the first post from her letters, Cherry Season, is soon to be posted. Hope you enjoy. 🙂


  2. Would plastic sleeves wok to put them into a loose leaf binder? You could write a “forward” to it. I’m slowly doing that with a box of our stuff.😋Sent from Xfinity Connect Mobile App


  3. Maybe creating a pictur book like the ones you and I did for our travels. You would have to scan in the documents but that would be a way to preserve them and the years they came from.


  4. Write a blog about each interesting piece. Eventually an idea will come about what to do with the wonderful pieces you have written. That idea will be a thread to weave it all together. Sorry about the thread metaphor again! Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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