Archive for Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Boxes of memories

January 4, 2012

For more than 11 years, the boxes have been stacked neatly in our basement. The boxes were one of many tasks that were on the schedule “to get to,” but never reached the top of the list. In fact, when we retired in 2000, Jean and I planned to completely clean and organize the basement. Alas, that has never happened.

The boxes came from my mother-in-law’s home in Canton when we moved her to Bonner Springs in September 2000. It was one of the busiest months of our lives as we were in the process of retiring from the newspaper business. There was little wonder that the boxes were never properly processed and the project ended up on the back burner.

Last week, Jean and her bothers decided to begin the chore of checking the boxes. Now, they thought it would take a couple of hours, but that was before nostalgia set in. After six hours, they might have been about a third of the way done. The boxes contained a treasure — no money, but a treasure chest of family history and memories that are beyond intrinsic value. Many of the items could never be replaced.

Jean’s mom and dad saved every bank statement and financial transaction for more than a half decade. The papers gave a good idea of how inflation has grown. There were checks to the grocery store for $1, which probably went a long way to feed a family of five for a week. At age 17, my mother-in-law bought a $250 life insurance policy for five cents per week. The papers gave a good look at life on a small farm in the 1900s.

But the treasures went further than that. I believe they saved every greeting card, drawing and letter sent by the children and grandchildren. She had kept many clippings of events and activities of our children and a lot of my newspaper columns. I will admit that while looking at some of the pictures, I was shocked at how I’ve aged. Looking at our engagement picture, I was really surprised at how young we looked and I wondered where all the years had gone.

There were photos and stories from all of the newspapers we’ve owned or managed. In fact, it was a good chronology of my career, going back to the Kilowatt, which was the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities in-house publication. She kept many clippings from the girls’ activities, including wedding and engagement announcements and college graduation programs.

Evelyn had kept a lot of items from her youth. She had the program from her junior-senior prom, her 1930 graduation program and grade cards. There were photos from church camps and other activities from her school days.

There were many letters, too. Glancing over a few of them, I was reminded of the days before we bought The Chieftain and had spent a lot of time looking at newspapers before we got lucky and made the right decision to come to Bonner Springs.

Probably the saddest letter was written by Jean’s grandmother trying to save her job at a packing plant. Her grandmother had been widowed in her early 20s and was left with three small children to raise. While no one knew the story behind the letter, it appeared she had lost her job because four chickens that she had picked did not pass inspection. There was no mention of her getting the job back, but it was a good example of how cruel life could be a century ago in the days before Social Security.

We had several boxes of bank statements and canceled checks to throw away. But even after the afternoon’s work, there remained several boxes that were going to become part of the family archives.

I have never been much of a saver. But after one afternoon of going through boxes, I found myself wishing I had saved more stuff so that at some future date, my family would have the same joy remembering what it was like growing up in the newspaper business in the old days.

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