Friday, January 22, 2010

Treasure Hunting at the Family Home

Snow covers the ground in Los Altos, California, January 21, 1962. That pose suggests I just threw a snowball, while my sister holds one above her head, ready to go.

I've been mining treasure at the home where my parents lived for the past half century. With our mother gone and our father in nursing care, my sister and I decided we should begin the job of cleaning out the drawers and closets. Since I'm the one who lives nearby, I've begun what my sister calls the "triage". What interesting things I'm finding.

One, is the picture you see above, which shows January 21, 1962, when snow covered the ground on the San Francisco Peninsula (one of only ten such days since 1852, according to the U.S. Weather Service). I remember the day so clearly. My mother had a friend over and as they talked, I kept pointing out the window at the snow falling. The visiting neighbor was from Minnesota and was very unimpressed.

It was snowy in the backyard too!

We were lucky that it all happened on a Sunday, when we had a free day to frolic in this unusual weather phenomenon.

An odd coincidence: I found the photos of the January 21, 1962 snowstorm on January 21, 2010. Weird.

I found this poem in another drawer. Written in my mother's hand, I have no idea whether she actually sent it out to friends and family.

It reads:

And now for some news!
You know how that goes
You think that it's "news"
Yet everyone knows.

But in case you've not guessed
this then is for you
We're expecting in March
Young Chap number two.

That's me. Chap number two. We try harder.

And here's a shot I found of my homecoming, another photo I'd never seen. Mom probably didn't want to advertise this glimpse of her in her nightgown, bathrobe, and loafers, with her hair in a scarf, just home from the hospital. She looks happy, though, and that's nice to see. In later life I don't know when I ever saw her with a big relaxed smile like that.

As usual, Dad is doing the heavy lifting. And my sister looks delighted. She's pretty sure she's just acquired a new dolly.

The treasure hunt is endlessly fascinating. In a coffee can I found my mother's first wedding and engagement rings. In a dresser drawer I found a set of lace handkerchiefs my Grandmother Chapman had given my mother on her wedding day.

Books are piled everywhere, a testament to the intellectual curiosity of both my parents. My mother's books are full of poetry and biography and fiction. My father's run more to titles like Working with Concrete, and Physics for the Engineer. And he was probably one of the few people in America who actually ordered How the Federal Reserve Works from the U.S. Government Printing Office. And then read the darn thing.

My mother had a hard time throwing anything away. I'm not saying she was pathological or anything, but I'm afraid if she'd lived much longer, they would have featured her on one of those reality shows about hoarders who can't leave their homes without intervention. The Great Depression did that to some people.

Still, in another photo I unearthed on my treasure hunt, I found her Depression-era family looking pretty non-deprived, smiling for the camera, in front of their summer garden in Spokane, Washington. My mother is the blonde beauty on the verge of womanhood--second row left.

Aunt Ruth, left front, and Uncle Jack, sitting next to her on the bench, remain with us today.

I love this shot of Dad in the garden. That is how most people in our neighborhood still remember him. A hole in the knee of his jeans too!

Mom, looking positively buxom, and me, looking buxom and positively bald!

One of my early creative designs. I just can't help myself. I was born with an overabundance of imagination. There isn't a thing I can do about it.

I have hours and hours more work to do at the house. But today, I paused and enjoyed looking back. Our family wasn't perfect. But you could do a lot worse than to have grown up in the California sunshine, surrounded by apricot trees and parents who piled rooms high with books.

I wish they had sorted through a little of their stuff before they left the house behind. But, like most of us, they didn't like facing the end of things. And, come to think of it, if they had, I would have missed out on the treasure hunt of a lifetime.

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Laura said...

Hi Robin!

Be sure to leaf through every book ~ you never know what treasures may be tucked between the pages of even the most innocuous title!

Good luck with your treasure-hunting.


Robin Chapman said...

Good advice Laura! I'm going through all the pockets of clothes as well. Never know where things are hidden ...

Devon C. said...

This pictures are really great. It is a good reminder to me to get my pictures in albums and to frame some. Because what is the point of taking photos if no one ever sees them?

Robin Chapman said...

Good point Devon: I'm finding lots of pictures in boxes of our family members and ancestors and many of them I have never seen.