Attics and Spring Cleaning
Katy gets Spring Cleaning Fever and explains some family history while exploring in her attic.
Written In April 1962
Dear Nephew Ray,
Have you noticed a change in the sunlight these days? It has gone from a thin, chill yellow to a full-bodied, warm, glowing gold. Laughing, it pours through winter-begrimed windows, setting housewives to thinking about spring cleaning.
The air, too, begins to tease our noses with faint sweet scents of emerging flowers. Winds run wildly, shrieking in merriment over rippling puddles, around house corners, and over thawing, honeycombed-ice. Children come in sopping wet from play and despite hot baths and early bed-times, often develop sniffles.
Another more obscure ailment is abroad as well. The symptoms are general restlessness, day dreaming, shortness of temper, a vacant gaze, and in severe cases, poetry writing. The later occurs usually in young victims; older patients most often begin examining fishing tackle or looking over golf-clubs (masculine), washing windows, airing blankets, turning out drawers, or buying a new hat (feminine). Diagnosis - Spring Fever.
Martha and I got a whiff of balmy air the other day and as one woman we made for the attic. Carrie, Young Joe's wife, has been looking for a blanket-chest and I was sure I had something that would do. Back in a neglected corner we unearthed a wooden trunk my grandfather built. Martha dragged it over to a window and, settling ourselves in a couple of old rockers, we proceeded to unpack it.
Somehow family things shift around and come to rest in strange places. This trunk, it looks more like a chest really, originally belonged to my Uncle Lonzo and Aunt Bea. Grandpa made it for them when they traveled to Michigan a year or so after the Civil War.
You may recall my telling you (in Aunt Katy's Civil War Story) that Bea had only one relative, a brother a few years older than she. Several months after Lonzo got home from the war, Brother Henry appeared full of enthusiasm over moving West. His vibrant descriptions of the lush pastures and rich farm-land to be had for the asking soon lured an already restless Lonzo and Bea into going with him.
They were delayed by the arrival of Bea's first child, a bouncing baby boy named Henry Alonzo. By the time they were ready to travel, it was late fall but they set off with high hopes despite the anxious concern of those left behind.
They were gone a year. The land was good but the water was bad. Little Henry, just beginning to toddle, got fever and chills and died. Bea and Lonzo were unhappy, homesick, and heartbroken over the loss of their son. Another baby was on the way and they both wanted nothing more than to get back home to the Big Farm, pure water, and Grandma's capable hands to deliver the new arrival. They left everything for Henry, except what could be packed in the wooden trunk, and made the long trip home with ever lightening hearts.
Brother Henry stayed on for a while, then moved further West till after a number of years they heard no more from him. Several months after his death in California, Bea received a packet containing his watch, her last letter worn from much reading, and two small gold nuggets.
In this day of feather-weight luggage, this cumbersome wooden box does not strike one as the perfect traveling trunk. It is much better suited to sitting in Carrie's upstairs hall packed full of quilts. Grandpa made it of stout seasoned lumber. The box stands some three feet high on four square legs and is finished with a mellow old coat of varnish. It is very heavy empty so one can imagine its weight when full.
Martha and I found it packed with a wide assortment of odds and ends. In the small 'valuables box' which runs the width of the left side, lay the good nuggets and Henry's watch, still done up in their original wrappings, an envelope with 'Baby's hair' written in faded ink, black silk mitts, a lovely painted parchment fan, a box containing a jet brooch and earrings, a man's stickpin and cuff-links, and a worn-in-two wedding band, and underneath them, wrapped in a bit of silk, I found a real treasure.
It is treasure to me at least and would be to a few others, I know. When I unwound the silk, a small doll's head lay in my hand. 'What short hair she has', I thought as I turned it over on my palm. There, staring up at me with grave blue eyes, was a man's face. He had a luxuriant blonde moustache and a most charming expression. Jasper, as I immediately named him, has become one of the very few gentlemen in Katy's Home for Elderly Doll People.
From the bowels of the trunk Martha unearthed a home-woven coverlet of blue and white, faded, yellowed and nibbled by moths. Three lovely prisms were wrapped in an old shawl. They hang in our east windows now, giving off multicolored splashes of light as the sun hits their twelve inch lengths.
A long baby dress and bonnet of the finest lawn with lace, tucks, and the tinest stitches imaginable were folded in tissue paper. With it were yellowed lace stockings and tiny buttoned kid boots, scuffed with wear but still showing the mold of a small foot. Embroidered and lace edged bibs showed loving care by mother hands. One of them still held a small gold bar-pin engraved 'Baby'.
There was a large comb carved from cow's horn which Bea must have used to fasten up her heavy blonde curls. A rusty shot-silk cape bore the note 'bought for me by Lonzo on our wedding trip'. A small album full of tintypes of the children, Lonzo and Bea, and their friends lay atop a stack of school books. These were much worn and bore many names on their flyleaves for they had been passed down from eldest to youngest of twelve children.
Again and again my eyes returned to Jasper. Bodyless tho he is, I am fascinated by him. To think that such a treasure lay in my own house and I was unaware of it! Whenever we drive past old houses, I often wish I might investigate their attics. Josiah says I get a look he calls my 'attic-angler's expression' when we go by a particularly large, long established home. I just can't help wondering what treasures lie forgotten in them and wishing I could investigate.
I heard a thumping and scraping in Martha's room this morning and peeked in to find her rearranging furniture. Watching for a few minutes, I said "I'd been thinking, Martha, the sitting room......" "Umhum, Aunt Katy," she said with that peculiar glint that appears in all female eyes this time of year, "What about putting the sofa under the high window and......"
Hearing us, Josiah sputtered about leaving home, liking things the way they are, and "tarnation fool spring cleaning." I fear we didn't heed him much. Young Joe is coming over one of these days before plowing time to help for we need a strong young back. Sue has offered to do up the curtains so we shall soon be fresh and clean with everything 'out of order' in Josiah's opinion.
Attics often become depositories for discarded treasures. They provide nesting material for mice, wonderful snooping places for grandchildren, and a thankless chore for moving day. Yet if you don't save some particular item or if you leave it behind when you move, very often you want it later. And it does make things interesting at Spring Cleaning time.
Uncle Jos sends regards as do I,
Your Aunt Katy