Old Letters, Old Houses

I’ve just finished reading old letters.

Written in sprawling handwriting, written in the 1940’s, written by my Greats and Grands. My Great Aunts and Uncles, and my Grandma, jotting notes to each other before marriages and family ties.

We are a family of gigantic proportions. My Great Grandma had ten children, mostly girls, and with that number comes large quantities of news. It’s fun to read about various dates, tennis match scores, bowling scores, and even grade reports of people who are snowy haired now.

My Grandma wrote a great letter which included juicy tidbits about a certain brother being on the phone with a girl discussing geometry.

My family saves these messages from the past. We hold on to them and pass them around, photocopied, to see what would otherwise be lost. We hold onto a person, a flavor, a time. I like to see where I have come from, to see who I’m like.

I took my sons to Great-Grandma and Grandpa’s house today. Q wandered around in their garden, and Grandma gave him a thumbs up for being a good helper. Grandpa told me a terrible story about when I was six and threw a temper tantrum. For some reason, he holds that event in a sentimental light; I can’t for the life of me figure out why he likes to remember the screaming, adolescent side of me. He said he likes to remember it because he likes to remember everything because he loves me…

My parents have bought an old house and are in the process of cleaning it out. There’s no family besides a distant relative who took a few pieces of furniture. I don’t like to go there, it smells stuffy, and it’s like walking into a life interrupted. There are books, and wrapping papers, and sunblock, band aids, and Playboy puzzles (!), all frozen in 1978, waiting for a person who doesn’t breath anymore.

There are boxes and piles of photographs. Smiling faces without names who don’t seem to realize they are destined for the trash. We found a journal entry about a childhood crush, and an essay about the family dog. My mom took home a baby book. The woman had a baby, “a little lamb”, and like any mother, she saved his birth announcement and carefully recorded each ounce and inch in the book.

All this life, existence, now sitting in the corner of my parents living room. It’s too hard to throw away, but what shall we do with it? We don’t know these people.

No one wants their pictures. No one wants their baby books or letters.

As I help my parents clean the house out, I am watching a life be removed from memory. I am seeing someone disappear. It is sad, and I want to remember my own, well documented family. I want to be remembered (if someone tries to throw away the scrapbooks I’ve slaved over I will roll over in my grave, so help me).

Someday, despite best efforts I will be forgotten by men and remembered no more. I will be dust again.

The gift of today is hope:

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” -1 John 3:2

He knows the hairs on your head. He knows your name. He knew you before he made you. You will not be forgotten by the Supreme Being who made you and loves you. Don’t waste your life, love Him back and live forever.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
You turn man back into dust and say, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night.
You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep;
In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew.
Toward evening it fades and withers away.
For we have been consumed by Your anger
and by Your wrath we have been dismayed.
You have placed our iniquities before You,
Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.
For all our days have declined in Your fury;
We have finished our years like a sigh.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury,
according to the fear that is due You?
So teach us to number our days
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
Do return, O LORD: how long will it be?
And be sorry for Your servants.
O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness,
That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,
And the years we have seen evil.
Let Your work appear to Your servants
And Your majesty to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.”

-Psalm 90

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

16 thoughts on “Old Letters, Old Houses

  1. Love Him back!!!! Girl, this isn't somber. Well, ok, maybe a little bit. But you found all of that stuff and no one wants it and what's a girl to do? I'm supposed to be eating my breakfast before we head off to spend the a.m. with a friend, but I had to stop in here, first. No two ways about it.


  2. oh yes. my heart sings with this post… this is family. this loving the tantrums … i like the line 'stepping into a life interrupted'… brilliant. i will write you soon. praying, e.


  3. This belongs in a magazine JoAnn. I love your style! It is a little sad that someone's baby books and pictures are left behind. I love old houses and if your house ever becomes old, all your scrapbooks and playboy puzzles (haha!;) will be safe because you come from the sentimental kind.


  4. I love this post, JoAnn. I have some old photos of people I don't know, and I've been thinking about doing a post on it. I loved what you said. Could I link to this post if I ever write about the photos? You wrote an awesome message. Oh, and I agree with Alexis.


  5. Beautiful words… I have thought on the transiency of our lives here on earth from time to time…. it is a bit sobering. Good thing God isn't transient.


  6. Thanks for the reminder.

    Passing through from unwrapped Tuesdays, love your blog name, too funny and your about me section. I can totally relate. Looking forward to checking the rest of your blog out!


  7. Playboy puzzles? I'm sorry…I love the whole piece, but didn't know those existed!!

    Yes, store up your treasures in HEAVEN….this world is surely gonna fade away!



  8. Oh how I love old stories. (Maybe that's why I used to teach history.) I come from a family of gigantic proportions as well. It's great that you have so much to link you to those who came before you and so sad to think of the mystery family with a history but no one to appreciate it.

    Loved your funny comment (“cyber-bullying”) over at my place! Cracked me up!


  9. Love this! I, too, wonder about the pieces, the fragments, of a life left behind. So glad to hear that your family is passing around the letters, telling the stories–remembering, that none of it be lost.


  10. I have some photos of strangers that I bought at a second hand store. Very old, black, white and metallicly/silver looking photos.

    How amazing to find letters from the past! You'll have to post one.


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