Friday, April 22, 2011

Termites and Old Letters

Since the discovery of termites has necessitated the removal of all the stuff from the right garage wall, we’ve been shuffling boxes around -- before I have had the opportunity to sort them. Bill dumped several in the Dining Room. They were mostly photographs, old tax returns, checks and registers, files from my Fernbank days and clothing.

Bill helped me move the shredder into the Dining Room and I have been happily shredding. I shredded all the unused checkbooks from four different accounts that have been closed for at least a decade, as well as all my parent’s tax records and returns from 1983 to 1990. I did find out that my sister had at least 5 jobs in those years. Del Taco, a travel agency, a gourmet food distributor, Rich’s (now Macy’s) and National Fundraisers. I had one -- the one at Fernbank Science Center. My “multiple job” stage was about 5 years before Amy had hers.

The next box contained all sorts of useful education material, however most (if not all) was woefully out of date. I removed all the paper from the file folders and made stacks of empty folders to use later.

The third box was much harder. I thought it contained photographs and there were a few there, but there was mostly correspondence from many years ago. I found my mother’s college diploma with her tassel. She had packed the folder full of all sorts of cards and the program from the graduation ceremony. It was dated May 28, 1961. She died exactly 40 years later on May 28, 2001. Soon she will have been gone for 10 years. The girls want me to take them to her grave on that date. We miss her horribly. My grandmother died in 2000 and so my mother never knew the pain of raising children without having access to abundant motherly advice. And my sister and I always had a Grandmama to go visit and to love on us. My children don’t know what it is like to have a grandmother. This makes me very sad.

The next layer down, I found a few pictures from very early in the 20th century. Only one was marked -- it was my grandmother Ruth Hilburn as a 7 year old child playing with a baby. I don’t know who that baby was; all the other pictures are just as mysterious.

Digging deeper in the box, I found correspondence of my Dad’s from the late 1940’s to 1950. He was out of the army by 1946 and had begun attending the University of Arizona in Tuscon. I found a letter to my Dad from his mother which I found amusing. She scolded him for spending money and encouraged him to find cheaper ways to travel from Tuscon to Atlanta. I also found papers from where he went back into the Army in 1950 (at age 31) to train ambulance crews for the Korean conflict. While he was teaching in California, he contracted San Joaquin Valley Fever. Most people suffer some flu like symptoms, but he was one of the few that had a severe case. He didn’t get any better.

After a few weeks, the Army doctors made the decision to operate and remove the infected lung. Daddy used to tell me that it was one of the first Thoracic surgeries attempted of this type. The doctors did not expect him to get better. He was shipped off to Atlanta to either to heal up or to die. I found dozens of cards that my Dad received the 9 months he was at Lawson Veteran’s Hospital in Chamblee. But what was heartbreaking was a paper bag and a large white envelope that he had scratched out some notes on. He was keeping a log of how he felt; how much pain he was in and what the doctors were doing. The pencil is fading and my father’s handwriting waxed and waned with his pain. I wondered why he kept the notes and if it was because he was lonely.

My father died in 1995 from complications of San Joaquin Valley Fever. He developed pneumonia and just didn’t have anything to fight the infection with. The doctors had expected him to die of the infection; I don’t think they expected it to take 45 years.

After I found his notes, I had to stop for a while. I get blue in the Spring of the year anyhow and this is not making things better. There is a part of me that wants to push on and finish what I have started; to get out the scanner and scan some of the pictures in, to design some scrapbook pages and preserve all this stuff. And there is a part of me that just wants to ignore it all (like I’ve been doing for about 10 years now.) I know what’s next is a box that contains all my Dad’s letters from WWII. I find myself simultaneously fascinated and reluctant.

So I’m shuffling boxes around. I have wanted to do this for years now. I suppose I should thank the termites for getting me started.

Lawson Veteran's Hospital in Chamblee, GA around 1945

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