Last year, we bought a house. The man had died, and the house went to his wife. They were separated but not divorced. She was very ill herself and did not survive him for long. Her children did not like the man at all, and they did not want his house. We bought it, chock a block full of contents.
He was a hoarder. There were piles and piles of boxes. One box contained nothing but cigarette coupons. Another box had newspapers. There was a huge garbage bag full of nothing but salt and pepper shakers, still full, as if he and his wife had swiped the shakers from every restaurant that they'd ever gone to. There's a lot of kitchen appliances, still in their unopened boxes. Dishes galore, sheet music dating back to the early 1900s. Crazy, crazy amounts of stuff to be gone through. 3 generations of cancelled checks. Stuff like that.
Something that always made me feel badly was that these folks had tons of family pictures. They were everywhere, Formal portraits, family snapshots, letters, post cards home, all sorts of ephemera. And every time I got there to go through stuff, I'd think "I wish that I knew the family. Surely this would mean something to someone..."
I knew that he and his first wife had divorced and she took the kids and moved to California. I knew that he and his second wife married late in life and had no children. I knew that he and his third wife were married for a relatively short time, and her children wanted nothing to do with him at all.
A young girl at work was moving into her own place and I offered her the chance to go through the appliances and dishes and see if there was anything that she could use. While I was waiting, I went through the music cabinet. It is a piece that I intend to keep for myself. Going through the sheet music, I found some little slips of paper, entry blanks for a long ago Easter contest at a local store. one of those guess-how-many-beans-are-in-this-jar games. I looked at the childish handwriting and stopped cold in my tracks. I thought I recognized the name.
I called a mutual friend and asked if Ed R.'s first name was 'Edwin', and surprised, she said that it was. "Why?" she asked.
I couldn't believe, after all this time, that the answer was right there in front of me.
I told Mary about the Wayne St, house, about all the pictures, and slides, and even home movies. "Do you think he'd be interested?" I asked.
And she said, "Oh my gosh, I know that he would. I'm going to call them right now."
Just that quick, my phone was ringing back. It was Ed, and he was flabbergasted. They remembered the pictures. Betty, the second wife was his aunt. He and his family had even lived with them for a bit when they moved back from Florida. They were very close to their aunt, and when she died, they asked for her family pictures. The old man had told them that they couldn't have them, that they'd been thrown out.
I told Ed that they weren't, that there were boxes and boxes of them. I told him that he was welcome to them. He was very excited. He does genealogy and they had precious little information on his mother's side of the family. He was speechless when I told him about the suitcase in the attic filled with photos from the 1800s, tintypes, post cards home from WWI. (ONE!) even a very creepy Victorian death photo.
We met at the house tonight. His sister drove an hour to be here too. They went through pictures identifying people. They found momentos from long ago weddings. The sister found the baby announcement from when her daughter was born. And there were tears, and laughter, and a family reminiscing. "This was where I slept!" and "Remember that we sat in this very chair and untangled Aunt Betty's necklaces?"
The old movies? They took them all and the projector and the movie screens too. The slides? They took them, and we found the slide viewer. Strange things caught their eyes: An old biscuit cutter had sentimental value. The cut glass pitcher. A strange old lamp.
The two Swedish bibles from the 1870s had names and dates of births, and dates of deaths and were held reverently once again. There were letters to be exclaimed over. When we went to the attic, Ed said right away, "My aunt wanted that wicker doll carriage in the very worst way!" Inwardly, I groaned, because I coveted it for myself, but it wasn't my memory, and so I told them that their aunt could have it. They looked at me. "She's dead," they said, and I am ashamed to say that my first thought was a jubilant "YES!" but I only said, "Well, I'm sorry that she was never able to get that carriage." I meant it too. I would not have missed it had I never set eyes on it.
3 hours later, we finally walked out of that house, tired and dirty and one of the people having some serious breathing issues from the dust in the attic.
Outside, they hugged me over and over and told me how wonderful it was to have all these things. They'd bought a fruit basket for us. It wasn't at all necessary. As happy as they were to get it, I was even happier to see it go. The fact that it went to where it belonged made it all the better.