After taking a break to ponder the delights of gibberish, I’m back to pulling skeletons out of the family dirty laundry hamper. Perhaps I’ll find an even more illustrious ancestor than Deacon Samuel Chapin! What do you think?
This is one of fourteen letters which were written in the late 1800s to my great grandmother, Nellie Nelson, from someone in Sweden (supposedly . . . we do not have the envelopes to prove this fact). Nellie died after many years of ill health when her daughter (my gram) was only fifteen years old. After her mother’s death, Gram’s father, who must have been a dour old poop, refused to translate them for her. He refused to even tell her who they were from. His stance was “good riddance to old rubbish” and apparently Sweden and every thing Swedish and every one of their Swedish family and friends were old rubbish.
The only clues I have are the notes in my grandmother’s handwriting on the top of a couple of the letters, conjuring up the heartbreaking image of a young girl kneeling beside her mother’s deathbed hoping to learn something about her heritage. Probably while her father was out of earshot.
Although she had little idea what was in them, Gram cherished these letters her entire life as my mother does now. Today they are very brittle, falling apart in my fingers as I put them on the scanner. Paper that old should probably be handled by an expert and not someone as klutzy as me but time is of the essence, at any point they could be lost or turn to dust.
The one above seems to be in a different hand, meaning that more than one person sent Nellie Nelson a birthday wish or wrote to tell her of family events. However, the only thing I can glean from these fossils is that Nellie’s real name was Pettrunella Johansson (no wonder she went by “Nellie”). What will happen when I do find someone to translate them? Do I really want to know the secrets they contain or do I want to assume they were filled with cherished stories from the old country?
This house in Monson MA is rumored to have been the town’s first elementary school and because the town predates the Revolutionary War nary a floor is level. The original structure had only two rooms whose blackboard walls are now hidden by layer upon layer of wallpaper. From this simple dwelling, my ancestors added two bedrooms, an indoor bath, a kitchen, covered patio and small television room. The room to the left was probably built by my great-grandfather as storage for his three children (two of whom are in the above picture along with a girl identified as only “My cousin Myrtie.”) Because the toddler in the picture is my grandmother, born 1899, I figure this picture dates from the early 1900s. The original deed is handwritten.
Receipt for the house on Main Street
Here’s the same house on Main Street in a photo probably taken in 1910 after they added the porch :
This porch (now screened in) overlooks a boulder-filled creek where as children we played for hours, always within shoutin’ distance of Gram. The last time I visited, the untended blackberry vines choking the creek and newly constructed storage facility on the other side stole all hope of a return to what once was. Nonetheless, the house’s eventual slip from our fingers still stings.
I know that, in the end, old houses and photos are just stuff, stuff our children probably won’t give a hoot about, stuff that will end up either in a garbage dump or in some moldy basement, pages stuck together, edges eaten by rats. I’ve accepted that eventuality however for some insane reason I decided to go through the five million boxes of unorganized STUFF I rescued from my mother’s house. If you’ve ever had to clean out grandma’s house and go through her stuff then you’re probably thinking what an idiot I am. And I admit, it is exhausting, unrewarding work that has kept me from blogging, writing, exercising and cleaning house. But every now and then I’ll find something which might be mildly interesting to the kids. Know what it is?