A Word of Explanation
There was a Victorian parlor game called “My Grandmother’s Trunk” in which the players, starting with the letter ‘A’, were supposed to name various objects stored away by a mythical ancestress. While one assumes that such useless objects as Anchors and Zebras were frequently assigned to the old lady, the game itself is, I think, a tribute to the truth that for many of us there is something intrinsically fascinating about any collection of items thought worthy of preservation by one whose life touched those of so many now gone, and whose experiences have been so very different from our own. Such, anyway, were some of the thoughts that passed through my mind when, as executor of her estate, I came across a solid but elderly trunk in my grandmother’s attic. When I opened it to discover nothing but neat stacks and bundles of papers, I admit my first feeling was one of intense disappointment. “Old tax returns!” I groaned. “Or maybe appliance warrantees from the last fifty years.” (My grandmother never threw anything away.) But as I began to look at the papers more carefully, and dates and place-names caught my eye, disappointment was replaced by the nostalgic delight appropriate for an aging History Major whose post-college career has consisted mainly of shifting bits of non-historical data around on a glaring blue screen.
Though my grandmother failed to leave any helpful note of explanation, by extended poking around–among both her personal papers and the memories of older relatives–I was able to discover that the trunk was one that had accompanied her when, as a girl, she was first sent over to Canada from England at the beginning of WWII, and then later to the United States when she married my grandfather. One supposes that her family must have decided that such fragile papers were more likely to survive an ocean voyage than a bomb!
These irreplaceable pages consisted of hundreds of letters, some of them bound up in things called “letter-books,” as well as simple diaries, longer journals, and a few less-creased bundles which seemed to be manuscripts in varying stages of completion. Determined that my family was not going to lose such a link to its heritage on my watch, I soon appointed myself editor, and began devoting my spare time to typing those fading individual scripts into Times New Roman, and obediently Americanizing or modernizing all the words to which Spell Check objected.
This first offering to my “posterity” is from the most complete manuscript, (which rather looks as if it had been carefully written out in the hope of actual publication by a “bookseller”), and editing it has probably been the easiest of the tasks I have set myself. I only hope that my efforts to “tidy” while at the same time “preserving” were successful, and that everyone who may read these pages in future years will come to appreciate the honesty and humor of their author as much as I have.