If you have ever travelled with me, you know one of the many weird quirks that I have. I buy things so that my grandchildren will find them one day.
For the last 8 years of life abroad and international travel, I have made a point to buy something, anything, from each location that could be found in an attic one day, dusty and fading, that could trigger the imagination and explorative spirit of the kin that will come after me. It's just my thing I do. I want my crap to be kept, preserved, and then found. These last few months in Florida have been less than exciting. My dad was diagnosed with cancer, the cancer is growing, my grandma sometimes knows me - sometimes doesn't, and my job search was heartbreakingly.close.so.many.times until I finally landed my dream job in December. One thing has been fascinating, however, which has been the opportunity to sift through family artifacts. To be on the receiving side of my own personal mission to send exotic things into the next generations. The same was done, purposefully or not, from my predecessors.
Back to that dream job - I'm moving to the DC Metro area this weekend to begin my job working in US - China relations. It's very much a "homecoming" and utter redemption for the way my 7 year China experience ended 18 months ago.
After 5 months of job searching and being with my family after 8 years away, I am leaping into the American unknown. In many ways, I feel like I have adapted back to American life. But in many ways I haven't. I've been in the in-between.
My African quilt has been wrapped in its dry cleaning bag and sitting in my pink suitcase since August. I've been eating my parents food - lots of dry goods and packaged foods and oven meals, not the stove top one-pan creations I like to make for dinner. I've been using my dad's Keurig, while a tiny part of me dies thinking about the massive additions to landfills these little "convenient" pods are. I look forward so much to using a french press again. I look forward to my habits and routines again.
My things that have been collected over years of travel have been in reusable bags, shoved to the back of closets or lost in the sea of the garage. My paper umbrella bought on the beach in Thailand - in the back of the closet. My golden dragon gifted to me by the WeiFang government official, on the shelves in the garage surrounded by paper goods. Last night I found my ticket to the Taj Mahal, tacked to a bulletin board. Remnants of a season of life that has ended. Waiting to be compiled and saved and held onto for their memories.
My treasures are many and fascinating. But they pale in comparison to the other treasures piled in our 2 car garage.
Shortly before I returned home from Africa, a course of events occurred that resulted in my dad single-handedly moved all of my grandparent's belongings from their house into our garage. Weekends were spent boxing precious china, stacking old photos, removing every document. The task was monumental. But my dad is a loyal son, evidenced in the labor and ongoing care he provides his parents (alongside my mother who has already spent 28 years of her life caring for her mom). The result of this quick exit from my grandparent's large and beautiful home is that our garage is a (very messy) treasure chest. I directly benefit from this suddenly accrued treasure. Since securing an apartment, I have spent hours boxing dishes, utensils, and pyrex bowls, preparing to haul my grandparent's things to DC and use them until my own children take over one day. Pillows, towels, paintings, souvenirs from my grandparent's travels across the world. They're coming with me.
I often find myself just staring into the abyss. I am in awe that the physical reminders of two successful, profound, happy lives can be condensed into a garage. Sometimes I think to myself, "What is it all for?" We gather things only to have them released from our grip one day. Sometimes I envision the goat boy in Rwanda, or my friends in the desert of Ningxia and wonder that my parent's garage houses more belongings - more haphazard wealth - than most world citizens will ever see. I work hard to draw myself back from these thoughts, to focus on the here and now. These are my grandparent's things from lives well-lived.
I'm fascinated by each piece of treasure. The untold stories suck me in and take me away for brief moments.
There is the Churchwomen's Recipe Book given to my grandmother in 1968 from her foster mother. My grandma arrived via ship to America from France where she was orphaned in WWII. She was placed with a foster family in Ohio, and after her marriage to my grandfather (they met working at JCPenny), this little book was gifted. I love the typewriter- written pages and the personal notes left behind.
My grandmother made this Hershey Bar Pie on September 12, 1985. One year before my birth and nearly 20 years after being given the recipe book. "Good," she wrote. I can see her penning that thought in her kitchen, dirty dishes waiting to be washed in the sink.
She added 2.5 cups of milk to this Coconut Custard Pie recipe. I like to think about how she came to that conclusion. Trial and error? Did she already assume?
And then, for me, the best part of the book. A clipped out recipe from a package of Florida grown mushrooms. "Deep Fried Mushrooms" made of club soda, garlic salt, and flour. Did my dad eat these as a kid? Did she prepare them for a party or social gathering?
In a stack of framed items, I found this artifact. A certificate of shares owned for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. My grandfather owned 10 shares valued at $.50 each in 1968.
Then there's this. A family Bible from 1879. EIGHTEEN SEVENTY NINE. I lost my breathe over this one. The cover is heavy and thick, the pages full of drawings depicting parables and stories of Jesus. It looks like something that should be kept in a glass case.
Perhaps more amazing, if possible, are the newspaper clippings, hand written notes, and telegrams inside the front cover of the Bible.
This note is a handwritten list of people from February 12, 1893. I don't know any of the names on the list as family members, it seems like a prayer group list or something. The handwriting is flowy and beautiful. The paper is silky soft. Who were these people? How are their names on a list in our family Bible? What were they doing on February 12, 1893? What did their world look like?
Here is a telegram announcing the death of Ora McCormick on February 1, 1943. My great great grandpa. He died in New York, after living a life as a prominent industrialist. He invented the flour sifter and the Hoosier kitchen cabinet. His services were at 2pm on a Wednesday.
And this handsome fella photographed at the age of 21 in 1951. My grandfather. I hope to have a son one day and name him Philip after this dashing, generous man. *fingers crossed*. This photo will go with me to DC. A handsome gentleman to remind me of aging, of accepting and cherishing the varying stages of life, of pausing in the moment to reflect, of the importance of building a story. Is my grandpa still this person? What did 21 year old Philip think about, care about, dream about? Did it all come true?
One of my favorite finds is this Cuba travel guide. My grandparents went to Cuba on their honeymoon in June, 1956. (I hope to travel to Cuba this year. "Getting in" during the initial opening up stages is so important to see a place before it loses its original "charm." I felt this way about visiting Burma, and now I feel this way about Cuba.) My grandparents enjoyed the sunshine and the food and the tropical charm. I like to envision them wandering around Cuba holding this guide, using the map of Havana to find their way to their romantic restaurant choices. A French woman and her stock broker husband honeymooning in "The Paris of America."
These treasures. Held onto and preserved and found again.
As I prepare for a new season of life, it's been such a gift to reminisce on the past. To be humbled that my journey has barely begun. My grandparents have lived a lush, hard-working American life. They are an inspiration, as is my parent's care for them in these later stages. I love sorting my mamaw and gramps' treasures as much as I love seeking and buying my own to leave behind. A cycle of things, of little reminders of our existence and how intricate and multi-faceted (and lucky) they are.
Maybe I'll make some fried mushrooms once I get my kitchen in DC unpacked.
I'll let you know how they are.
walk slow. xoxo.