Members of my family gathered recently to clear out a few things that have been in storage since my grandma passed.
As we combed through plastic tub after plastic tub, we realized a couple of things. First, June was a bit of a hoarder.
We found neat stacks of every utility bill she had paid since moving into town, every card she was given, graduation announcements dating back more than 30 years and her treasure trove of gift bags she had stashed. When she had to go into a care facility several years ago, the tendency “collect” continued. One of her nurses said her was closet packed, but Grandma wouldn’t let anyone go through it. I waited until she went to sleep one afternoon and cleaned things out. Gift bags were not only shoved in her closet but in her nightstand, under her nightstand and anywhere she thought they could be kept. Bigger bags were used to store smaller bags, then carefully folded and stored wherever she felt she could fit them. If Grandma had caught me, she would not have been happy, but I made a clean getaway.
We shook our heads at what we found in storage, but we also had many memories flood back. Grandma may have been a hoarder of gift bags, but we soon found out she was also the keeper of family history.
An old family history book from Grandma’s mom tells the story of buying their first car around 1925, paying $3 for the Model T Ford, and the farms they bought and rented throughout their marriage. It’s the only written family record I’ve ever seen of Grandma’s side of the family. I only recall meeting one of her siblings, maybe two, so that part of the family story could have easily been lost when my dad and his siblings are gone if not for the book.
Grandma kept every school picture or snapshot she was given. One envelope had photos of my dad from grade school through high school. My brother, David, handed his daughter one of the pictures and asked her who it was. “That’s Uncle Scott,” she confidently said as she gazed at the old black and white photo. She looked a little puzzled when he told her it was her grandpa. Uncle Bill kept saying, “Look at this handsome feller there,” when he found a picture of himself.
The younger generation was reminiscing too. One cousin remembered playing in the old cedar chest, one of my brothers remembered the old Chinese checkers set and the other remembered the old red rooster cookie jar. I found the wooden pestle from her strainer. There was an old tin filled with buttons of all colors, shapes and sizes, and at least one baby tooth. I have no idea how the tooth got into the button tin, but it meant enough to Grandma that she kept it.
Photos, games, buttons and pestles might not seem like much to some people, but there’s a whole other story to my Grandma June.
In 2008, a tornado ripped through our hometown, destroying my grandma’s house with her inside. Thankfully, she was OK, just a little shaken up. She was reading her Bible at the time and said the Lord was keeping her safe. That’s the only explanation any of us have for her coming away unscathed that day. I always said my Grandma June was a tough lady – a sentiment shared by my cousins who preached her funeral as many attendees nodded their heads in agreement – so a tornado didn’t stand a chance against her.
In the days following the tornado, we dug out and salvaged what we could, getting lots of help from extended family and friends. We packed up and tried to organize what remained, but so much was lost. I didn’t realize until we began cleaning out the storage area just how much was saved.
Grandma may have liked to keep many things, but if it weren’t for her tendency to keep everything, we would have nothing for the future. She may be gone, but she has made it possible for everyone to know her story, our story.
Julie Turner-Crawford is a native of Dallas County, Mo., where she grew up on her family’s farm. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Julie, call 1-866-532-1960 or by email at [email protected].