Another Day in the Country
Keeping all the keepsakes
© Another Day in the Country
Over the weekend, I was reorganizing things in the room where I keep art supplies and came across a box of old photos.
I’d evidently started sorting through photographs in preparation for making one of my infamous Shutterfly books, but by the time I got ready to do the book, I’d lost track of the box of pictures.
This problem is definitely a common hazard for retirees: Where did I put that?
I also found an old sketch book tablet with diagrams of picture frames and quick outlines of the people in the picture and then names underneath.
Obviously, I’d been going through the Ramona House, which is full of family history, with my mother or some aunt or uncle (all long gone) and since I couldn’t stop at the minute and label things, I took notes in the sketch book.
There also was page after page in my loopy handwriting recording fragments of stories that were being told to me.
Reading these pages at least 25 years after I’d scribbled them down, I struggle to read my own writing. On this particular page, my aunt, Naomi Fike, was telling me stories of things she remembered from her childhood.
“You know, Uncle Fred was so tight, my mom used to say “if he could, he’d eat everything twice,” my aunt laughed. “They owned a grocery store in Tampa when I was a little girl. While their daughter, Lilly, who was married to Willie Dickman, a teacher in the area, minded the store, I’d babysit their toddler, Dorothy.”
I pause to reflect. Here I am struggling to read my own writing.
“Who other than me cares a whit about all this information?” I mumble to myself. “I should just chuck this all in the trash.”
But I don’t.
“When I was a kid, your Dad and I worked for the Kleibers,” Naomi continued her story, glad to find a listening ear.
I was scribbling as fast as I could.
“They were neighbors living across the field from us,” she said. “Sometimes they’d leave for an overnight stay on the weekend to visit friends, and Laurel and I would babysit their kids, and Laurel would do the chores. We’d get paid 25 cents.
“I always liked working for Minnie Kleiber. One time she said, ‘Why not bake pie today? It’s a good time to learn.’ I didn’t know what I was doing because my mother always used shortening and Mrs. Kleiber used lard — two different things when it came to pie crust. But, if you made a mistake, unlike my mother, Minnie would just laugh it off.”
Several pages later, there’s another scribbled story about the Kleibers — this time from my father, talking about when he was in high school.
“The government began giving a subsidy to farmers if they would rest their land,” my Dad said. “Harry Kleiber was out measuring land, and I was helping him. Everything was very quiet, no wind. There were clouds in the west. It was about 8:30 in the morning, over near Tampa. When those clouds moved in, they began raining dirt that was fine as flour. The sky got so dark in the field I didn’t know if we’d find our way back home. It was the first day of the dust storms.”
I page through the book, still weighing in my mind, “Do I keep this? Should I just throw it way?”
One time, Aunt Gertie told me the story of when Grandpa and Grandma Schubert moved off the farm and into Ramona.
“Your grandma had a big bonfire out in the yard and she was burning things that I thought were probably family keepsakes,” Gertie said. “So when she wasn’t looking, I’d retrieve things from the fire and put them out of her sight.”
Aunt Gertie was a keeper. She might have started out with a box or two of things salvaged from her mother-in-law’s burning spree, but she ended up with several out-buildings full of stuff.
This time of year she’d say, “I think I’m going to organize things out in the shed now that it’s cooler.”
She had the best of intentions to throw things away, but she rarely did. I know how she felt.
We still have Great-Grandma Schubert’s diaries, which Gertie rescued from that fire. They are written in precise German, but no one can read her fancy handwriting to even know what she wrote. Every once in a while there’s a name or a word we recognize, but what she wrote is still a deep, dark secret.
I turn another page of the sketch book. There’s a notation: “Martha’s favorite joke.”
I take a second look, trying to remember why I wrote this down, because my mother was not a jokester and didn’t especially like the jokes most people told.
But here’s her favorite joke that she would retell: “Why did Moses wander 40 years in the desert? Because even then, men wouldn’t ask for directions.”
It’s another day in the country, similar to a lot of days that already are history. Should I just throw this book of stories into the trash? No one will be the wiser. “You and me, Aunt Gertie.” I smile. Maybe I’ll just make these stories into another Shutterfly book. I could illustrate it with some of these old photos.