Author Archives: Lin

My Grandmother’s Writing Desk: Made of wood and memories

 

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother Frances’ desk.  She was fond of it and I have many memories of seeing my grandmother sitting on the stool in front of her desk and writing Christmas and birthday cards to her family.

My grandmother had the heart of a personal historian.  I remember her sitting at her desk, opening up her journal and making little notes in it – notes about the births, weddings, deaths and divorces in our family.  She also wrote notes about a particularly good game of bridge she had played or having the best score in a golf match.  She wrote get-well cards to her friends and planned trips to see her out-of-town family or friends, all while sitting at her desk.  She paid her bills and wrote donation checks to her local SPCA and to many other charities in the San Francisco Bay area.

When I was just five years old, I remember sitting at my grandmother’s desk. This desk was always paired with a round heavy stool.  I have happy memories of lying on top of the stool, spreading my arms out wide and spinning myself around and around until I was sick.

One interesting thing about this desk is the many hiding places that it contains.  I still gain pleasure from the idea that things can be hidden in the desk in plain sight but invisible to someone unfamiliar with the desk’s design. The hidden compartments are handy places to hide cash, love letters or perhaps even a secret diary – don’t tell anyone, though!

This desk also comes complete with a delicate, tiny brass key, which still works. 

 

 

As I recall being told, my grandfather bought this desk for my grandmother sometime between 1930 and 1940.  My grandmother used it every day until just a few weeks before her death. She died on February 3, 2008 at the age of 105.  After my grandmother’s death, my aunt sent the desk to me by freight truck all the way from San Francisco to Virginia.

When I received the desk, my first thought was to give it a good polishing.  I spent an afternoon cleaning and buffing the old desk.  Surprisingly, during the process, I found some things that had slid under the drawers and behind several of the compartments – a piece of carbon paper, instructions on how to do tubular crocheting, my grandmother’s 1955 Certificate of Members in the American National Red Cross, a recipe for baked fish and a few old canceled checks. Most pieces even show my grandmother’s beautiful and flowery penmanship.

Sometimes I think about having the desk refinished, but then I tell myself that all of the patina and provenance that goes along with the desk would surely disappear in the process.

I don’t think I will ever have my grandmother’s desk refinished. Today, as I look at the writing surface of the desk, I can still see faint traces of my grandmother’s handwriting in the wood’s surface. Her story and the love she had for her family is engrained in the surface of the desk she used for over sixty years.

I am so very grateful to now be in possession of my grandmother’s old desk along with all of its precious memories.  I hope that one of my daughters will want to keep this desk after I am gone.

Do you own a piece of furniture that is considered a family treasure and that holds memories for you?  I’d like to suggest that you write those memories down.  Future generations will enjoy knowing the history of that very special family heirloom.

11 Creative Ways to Preserve Your Family’s History

 

Have you been thinking about preserving your family’s history, but aren’t sure where to start? Here are 11 fun and creative ideas that will motivate you to kick the project off today:

  1. Turn Photo Albums Into Memory Books. Instead of simply slapping your photographs into an album, create a memory book by including a brief story about each picture and identifying everyone in it. Viewers, especially future family members, will be grateful for the explanations of who’s who and what they’re doing. Be sure to use acid-free products so that your memory book will endure for many years to come.
  2. Create Heirloom Jewelry. Jewelry doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. You can turn everyday pieces into heirlooms by linking each to a specific interest, moment, or event in your life. Think about collecting charms for a bracelet or adding a photo of a special relative to a locket.
  3.  Grow Family Memories. Are you an avid gardener?  Whether you grow prize-winning American Beauty roses or the ubiquitous zucchini, you can encourage and pass the love of gardening on to the next generation. Share some seeds or a cutting from a plant with a family member. Bake or cook with a young relative, using the bounty of your garden.
  4. Share the Love of Food. Write out favorite family recipes—Grandma Sarah’s corn bread, Aunt Mary’s turkey stuffing, your mother’s prize-winning strawberry shortcake—on pretty recipe cards. Or collect them in a book.  Add your memories of the times these dishes were served and savored and what made them so special to you and your family. The collected recipes and stories would make a wonderful gift for a newly married relative or young adult setting up a new home.
  5. Document Family Heirlooms. Do you own something that once belonged to an ancestor? Does that item hold great meaning to you? Ensure that future generations know its history by documenting it. Write down everything you know about the piece, including how it came into the family and who has owned it over the years. This is a great way to connect your descendants with the past. Be sure to keep the written record with the item. Check out the Heirloom Registry for an easy way to record the items.
  6. Set up a Family Photo Gallery. Are vintage photographs of your ancestors lying in dusty shoeboxes or hiding in old photo albums? Bring them out into the open. Local craft shops sell a variety of frames at a reasonable cost, and for just a little investment of time and money your gallery will generate interest, curiosity, and pleasure for your family members. Be sure to use acid-free matting and hang pictures away from the sun’s destructive light.
  7. Craft a Comforting Memorial. If you can thread a needle you can create a beautiful tribute to a deceased family member by making a teddy bear or quilt from a shirt or other item of clothing that they wore. This can provide great comfort and solace to others following the loss of a loved one. And the newly crafted item becomes a family heirloom that continues to tell the story of that family member’s life.
  8. Use Technology to Tell Your Story. Using video or audio recording equipment to preserve stories and memories is easier than you might think. First, make a list of stories you would like to talk about. Then set up the video or audio recorder, make sure to eliminate any competing sounds (e.g., ticking clocks, humming refrigerator), and tell your stories. If you prefer to focus on pictures, there are plenty of computer programs that can help you easily create a slide show from your family photos. Looking for some help? The friendly staff at Reel Tributes is just a phone call away.
  9. Proudly Display Family Documents. My husband’s great-great-grandfather was the justice of the peace in Hardin County, Kentucky, after the Civil War. Fortunately, his Official Certification from the state of Kentucky was passed on to my husband. I had it framed, and this bit of my husband’s family history is now displayed on a wall in our home—next to my husband’s honorary discharge papers from the U.S. Army.
  10. Write an Ethical Will. Just as a Last Will and Testament is a tool to pass on the “stuff” of life, an ethical will is a tool to pass on personal beliefs, values, life lessons, and blessings. Ethical wills have been with us for more than 2,000 years; authentic and readable ethical wills dating back to 1200 A.D. are still valuable for their literary content. This document has been found to be a tremendous blessing to family and friends.  Check out www.ethicalwill.com for information on how to write your own ethical will.
  11. Engage the Younger Generation. Kids have stories to tell as well. Ask your children or grandchildren what is important in their lives right now and record what they say, either with pen and paper or with an audio or video recorder. Not only will you learn a lot, but future generations will also be interested in what they have to say.

However you choose to preserve your family’s history, begin now.  Don’t let good intentions be just that. Cherish the role of preserver of memories for your family. You won’t regret it for a second.

Do you have other creative ideas to share? We, at Reel Tributes, would love to hear them.

More Than 500 Letters Later, A Granddaughter Is Born (Part 2)

 

Note: This is the 2nd part of a post from Bob Brody’s Letters to My Kids, which featured Lin Joyce’s letter to her daughter Annie. Visit the website at www.letterstomykids.org.

Dear Annie,

As you well know, your dad and I love to travel. But I had no idea just how much traveling I’d be doing when I married your father 37 years ago. I have the U.S. federal government to thank for 18 moves in 21 years, 12 being international relocations.

I gave birth to you during our second overseas assignment in Amman, Jordan — a great memory, of course. You are already aware of some of the unusual details of your birth. For example, very few Americans citizens have a birth certificate written in Arabic that is signed by an official representative of King Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. But you do.

You were supposed to have been born in Bangkok, Thailand. That’s where we were living when the nurse at the American Embassy Medical Unit told us that we were going to become parents. But when the office in Washington DC called with travel orders, we always said, “Yes.” And so we were transferred to Amman when I was five months pregnant.

Because your dad had to leave right away, I decided to go stateside to visit family and then fly to Amman by myself. What a long trip that was for me! My belly had gotten uncomfortably big, my moo-moo styled dresses were getting tighter and my ankles swelled if I stood for too long.

Your dad met me at Amman’s airport and soon I was walking into our new home. The American Embassy provided us with a spacious home only ten minutes from the embassy. The house had three floors and we were to occupy only the top two floors.We had three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a washer and drier but no disposal or dishwasher. The floors were all marble and the walls were wallpapered or covered with dark wood paneling. The house came fully furnished with Drexel Heritage furniture. We had many lemon and blood orange trees growing in our backyard.

On the morning you were born your dad spilled his coffee all over the kitchen table. It was raining outside and because of the Arabic Summit that was going on in the city, security was very tight on the main streets of Amman.

Still, all we could think of was: today we would become parents.

Your birth was helped along with a pitocin drip. During the birthing process, my Lebanese-trained obstetrician told me to stop making so much noise. You were born at 5:00 p.m. on the afternoon of November 21, 1980 at the Al Khalidi Hospital in Amman, the only light-haired baby to be found in the nursery.

 

You developed an elevated bilirubin level, which scared us. It was necessary for us to leave you in the hospital for a few extra days, but soon that situation resolved itself.

We got to bring you home on Thanksgiving Day, 1980.That was a Thanksgiving I will never forget. Your dad and I were so tired. We found two Swanson turkey TV dinners in the freezer that I had purchased at the Embassy Commissary and that’s what we had for dinner. We were very thankful to be celebrating Thanksgiving at home together.

Love always,

Mom

More Than 500 Letters Later, A Granddaughter Is Born

Note: This is a post from Bob Brody’s Letters to My Kids, which featured Lin Joyce’s letter to her daughter Annie today. Visit the website at www.letterstomykids.org.

Dear Annie,

For many years, as a result of my husband’s job with the Central Intelligence Agency, our family did a lot of traveling and relocating. We spent many years living in West Africa, Asia, the Middle East and in Europe. I once counted that we had moved eighteen times in twenty-one years.

Over the years I wrote letters to my maternal grandmother to whom I was very close. In my letters to her I described our daily adventures of living abroad, our unusual cultural experiences and the stories of giving birth to and raising our two daughters in foreign countries. My husband is now retired and we have put down our familial roots in Northern Virginia.

In 2004 I visited my grandmother in her home in San Francisco. During this visit my grandmother handed me a large, beautifully wrapped gift box.  Upon opening the box, I saw all the letters that I had written to her. The letters were neatly tied up with different colors of satin ribbon – a bundle for each year of our travels. Over the next few days, I was delighted to read my letters again and to reflect on so many of the adventures I had experienced and shared on paper with my grandmother. What my grandmother had been unaware of until that time was that I had saved her letters, too. Eventually, I was to see that together our letters numbered over 500.

Fast-forward a few years…

You were expecting your first baby on December 27, 2007. As your pregnancy progressed, you became more and more uncomfortable and longed for the pregnancy to be over. I then remembered the letters that I had written to my grandmother 27 years earlier. I remembered writing in great detail about being pregnant with my first baby (you) — and remembered how I, too, suffered nausea, indigestion, swollen ankles and late-night awakenings from pains in my legs; and how I, too, longed for the waiting to be over. Maybe you would take comfort in reading that I had dealt with the same inconveniences.

I decided to share my letters with you, now saved in a large white binder, in the hopes that it would reflect my love, compassion and empathy for what you were going through. I presented the large stack of letters to you. Early the next day you called me on the telephone.The excitement in your voice was all I needed to hear. You had read all of my letters in one night.

You were thrilled to read about my pregnancy experiences and even more about what my life was like at the time of her birth. You said that she had no idea of what I went through – the experience of giving birth at the Al Khalidi Maternity Hospital in Amman, Jordan, not having family nearby to help me, and not having the comforts of Westernized medicine throughout my pregnancy, labor and delivery.

After reading my letters, you told me that she gained a new and deeper understanding of what my life had been like and how difficult it must have been for me. You said that it must have taken a lot of courage to go to Jordan not knowing how things would turn out or what things would be like.

This mother-to-daughter insight was all made possible because my grandmother had the foresight to save my letters. They are only pieces of paper but the thoughts, memories and stories reflected on them are priceless.

Now my sweet daughter is the mother of three — a beautiful five-year-old daughter and active twin two-year-old boys. She is making her own memories and one day will have some amazing stories of her own to tell her kids.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Letters to a Little Girl from the White House

My mother married my stepfather in April 1963.

I was eleven years old at the time.

But let me back track a bit.

In 1962, my stepfather-to-be came to San Francisco to attend a professional conference.  A girlfriend of my mother’s introduced my mother to my stepfather and cupid’s arrow stuck hard and fast.

Within two year’s time, my mother and I moved from San Francisco, California to Bethesda, Maryland, and life changed dramatically for both of us.

Throughout the long months before flying to Maryland, my stepfather wrote me many letters.  Each letter was a personal introduction of sorts.  In the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl I surely didn’t know what to expect from the man who would soon marry my mother and become the only father I had ever known.

Through the letters, he slowly revealed the kind of person he was and the kind of father he would be to me through his frequent and loving letters, which were either typed or handwritten and mailed directly to me.

He told me that he had a fifteen-foot sailboat and was fond of sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.  He said that he wanted to teach me how to sail.  He told me that he was from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, his family still lived there and I would eventually meet them all. I knew he had an artistic side because he often included funny pictures and poems in his letters, all for my enjoyment.  He told me that he wanted to teach me how to ice skate in the winter months on the frozen canals in Washington, DC.  He was a devoted Roman Catholic and asked about my religious upbringing. He valued a strong and traditional education and his work caused him to travel widely.

But there was one thing that really stuck out about these letters. They were written on White House stationery.

 

At that time, my stepfather was acting as legal counsel for the Kennedy Administration. Several of the letters even mention my stepfather’s personal interactions with JFK.

December 16, 1962

By the way, during this past week, the President held his Christmas Party for his staff.  I shook hands with him and wished him a Merry Christmas.  During the evening, Caroline and one of her small friends came down the stairs to say hello to everybody. I sure wish you had been here to enjoy all the fun. 

Many of the specific memories have faded for me. My stepfather, now 84 years old, has Alzheimer’s disease.  As I hold my stepfather’s letters in my hands, I feel somehow connected to him again, and to my childhood, and to the love and affection that was so well expressed on sheets of paper.

Do you have family letters stored in shoeboxes up in your attic or on a shelf in your bedroom closet? When was the last time you read those letters and simply remembered days gone by?  What do those letters mean to you?  Please write and tell us. We’d love to hear from you.