By Pam Pacelli Cooper
President, Verissima Productions
My mother lives in a small, one bedroom apartment on Chicago’s North Side. The one big thing about the apartment is the closets. There are three large ones, and they would be the envy of anyone in the Northeast who lives in a 19th century house designed for wardrobes. For years, her closets have been filled, top to bottom with strong boxes, plastic bags, suitcases, old hat carriers, and a lavender jewelry box with a scene from Godey’s Lady’s book on the lid. Much of this trove of history has seen post offices in Kansas and Kalamazoo, San Diego and Saint Louis and Chicago apartments ranging from post WWII efficiencies to a 13 room “palace”.
And now, they’re all coming East with me. Not able to organize them herself, mother has asked me to take them to a new home. I go to the local Target and buy color-coordinated bins and spend four days packing them, carefully, for their journey. Some of the paper is very old and crumbling (note to self: acid free sleeves). Some of the photos have been stored deep in boxes so they appear almost new as I unpack them from their hiding places. There are familiar pieces of history: my great great grandfather’s affidavits for his Civil War pension, the napkins with love notes on them from my father to my mother, the daguerreotype c.1850 with the stern looking twins in it. There are also surprises: a long series of letters between my great grandmother and her older sister about their other sister, who was suffering from mental illness, a lock of hair from the young son my great grandmother lost to tetanus in 1900; the lectures my grandmother gave across the West in the 1930’s when she ran a depression-era charm school.
We pack them up and drive back to the East, across Michigan, into Ontario, then New York State and back to Massachusetts—the exact reverse of the migration that led my Ipswich, Massachusetts relatives to Illinois in the first place.
We carry the six bins up to the third floor of our house, where they will be keeping company with the bins we brought from Memphis six years ago when my mother in law passed away.
Now, I begin the task of cataloging these artifacts and adding the stories they bring with them to the names and dates in my family tree.
How many bins have you transported? What have you done with your family materials and what have you learned? Please write in and let us know.
Please also tune in to our podcast for this month, where John Morrison describes his adventures with history in an historic home.