Monday, January 6, 2014

Past Lifetimes

My husband has been a cleaning fool this holiday. Along the way, he brought in a box of books for me to sort through. I don't normally get rid of books, but my husband rightly pointed out that these books had sat in the garage for years. I agreed to look through the books before they were hauled off to Goodwill.

I'm glad that I did. 

The lady in the nun's habit is my Aunt Mary Ann.  The boy with his elbow on her shoulder is my dad.  I never knew my aunt; she died of Lupus before I was born, after leaving the convent and marrying. She was just a name on the family tree, a face in old photographs. But while I was going through those old books, I found a few treasures.
There was a 1940s dictionary.  Inside the flap was the name of my aunt, Mary Ann, neatly written along with her address.  Her cursive was perfect, except for a little curlicue with her "M".  The flourish made me think that Mary Ann might have been interested in making a statement, even if it was only a small one. I wondered if the nuns at her school had made a fuss about that flourish, and if my aunt had even cared.  Mary Ann also spent some time writing notes regarding usage on the front flap of the book, something she also might have been chastised for.  I had a moment to consider that perhaps my aunt had been faced with an open book test of sorts, and she wrote herself some hints.  I've done that.

I next turned my attention to this picture, stuffed inside the pages of a book.  Who could this be?  My aunt never had children.  I enlisted the help of family, and my Aunt Joan informed me that this was a picture of my cousin Eddy.  He was a cute kid, literally back in the day.  Today, not so much.  I spent a few minutes giggling over the idea of putting ANY small child in a white sweater, picturing the infinite number of stains that such outfits seem to attract.  Then I delved back into the old books, hoping for more treasures, and I wasn't disappointed.  Mary Ann was like me; she liked to hoard things inside books, things that needed to be kept flat.
The prayer cards and the crocheted cross bookmark made sense to me, since my father's family are very Catholic.  Mary Ann did initially want to be a nun, so it would make sense that she might find such things comforting during difficult times.   I also found a diet, written out carefully by my Aunt Mary Ann, along with information regarding sodium levels.  My aunt worried about her weight, enough to take the time to copy a diet out of a book, because they didn't have copy machines back in the forties. I had never considered that women back then would be worried about their appearance as much as we are now.  The idea was a bit depressing.

I felt a kinship with my aunt by this point, and I mourned a little that I never knew her.  She and I would have had a few things in common to talk about. Mary Ann would have had some tales to tell, if she had only lived.  But she was no longer a forgotten face in an old photograph to me; she was real.  I gathered up the dictionary and the rest of the pieces of my Aunt Mary Ann's life and brought them back to my father.  It didn't seem right for me to keep them, at least not yet.


  1. I have been trying to organize old photos lately. It is quite a journey.It is a shame you didn't get to meet your aunt, but glad you got this glimpse.

  2. What an amazing discovery! I'm a fool for old family photos and it's amazing what you can piece together from just a few hints and scraps.

  3. I love finding stuff like this and getting a glimpse into the lives of family members I've never met.

  4. I'm glad you discovered these treasures.

  5. How luck you are to have found this great stuff! I wish we had things like this, but sadly we don't.

  6. What precious memories you found in the form of those beautiful treasures :) That was an amazing read ! Nostalgia is good sometimes, I guess :) Love xx

  7. I'm really glad you took the time to look through those old books. I have a copy of my father's family tree written in my grandmother's beautiful handwriting. I've often wished I had the original so I could frame it and hang it over my desk.

  8. I love discovering things like that. I'm not an "avid" book collector, but I do collect and I've found some real jewels in old pages of books. Undiscovered items of the past, should definitely be cherished. And it's wonderful that they are part of your own family.


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