Excavating a Home: An Archeological Dig, Part Five

My family moved thirty miles down Interstate 5 in 1960. I was eight years old. That ribbon of highway marked the first before and after point of my life. Before was a magical childhood, playing make-believe in the woods between our house and the south-most end of the east-most finger of Puget Sound. After is mushed together with a new school, a scary storm on Columbus Day, the assassination of a president, my sister leaving home, adulthood.

I tell you this story because . . . moving barrels. There are seven of them in the storage room, sixty years post move. And now I’ve emptied six of them! I’ve offered them to daughter Emma. So many uses: storage in the dirt floor space under their new house, put boys inside and roll down a hill, pontoons for a raft. She has not yet accepted. Otherwise, what? They can’t go in either metal or cardboard recycling.

But I digress; back to the story. They are round. They are too big to stack, they don’t fit neatly next to each other. Four of them fit under the shelving, perhaps by design; two big ones sit in the floor space very much in the way. I stashed the seventh one in this room. It spent its post-move life in the family room next to the hide-a-bed covered with a blanket, masquerading as a lamp table. The others currently store the following: old bedding (by old I mean my older sister’s and my first blankets—one blue, one red—with the satin edging worn off, mine from rubbing it for comfort after nightmares); crocheted doilies, tablecloths, chair arm covers; a bunch of stuff labeled “Jo Ann” (handmade clay works, antique dolls, etc.); my father’s army hats and jackets; “wool scraps for quilts”; yarn. A whole barrel of yarn.

My mother didn’t knit or crochet, that was her mother’s superpower. As was rug braiding. My mother tried her hand at quilting, but not with wool, and included in the wool scraps barrel is wool already cut into strips for a rug. The yarn barrel includes full skeins of Icelandic wool as well as of fingerling, probably purchased for a to-be-conceived project. No doubt the content of these two barrels were kept for my grandmother—who died in 1988 at age 99, blind and well past her ability to be a maker, after creating a huge rug in her tiny apartment for my family’s family room, which I need to find a home for.

I get deep into my grandmother’s work. From the blanket barrel I rescue a partly wool crazy quilt with gold brocade backing. I remember it well. In our house on South Bay, Jo Ann and I dragged the dining chairs into the living room and draped this quilt over them to play stage coach. When I took the quilt to the cleaners this week—excited to put it on my guest bed—I told the Southeast Asian owner the story. In exchange she gave me a ten dollar discount.

In the blanket barrel there is also an either partially made or partially ripped out quilt top. Except that it’s sheer. It doesn’t appear to be curtains, nor does it seem appropriate for a quilt or bedspread. But in my grandmother’s old suitcase, is another just like it, with a note. (Thank goodness for my mother and her endless notes.) The note says it was begun by her mother and her mother’s family. Another start with more appropriate fabric says it was pieced by her mother in her teens. (My grandmother was nine when her mother died, leaving her the eldest daughter still at home. She left school and learned to cook and sew from a neighbor and took care of her father and siblings.) That puts these pieces at more than 100 years old. Jo Ann wants the pink one, thank goodness. When does old become too valuable to dispose of? Everything will be old someday. This is so hard.

My Granny also made granny square afghans. There are two of them in a barrel along with single squares. None of us want them. I thank my grandmother for her loving work, apologize, and put them in the thrift store box. I keep a few pieces, along with the very old star squares my mother, according to a note, meant to frame for “the girls.” It’s possible they are made from feed sacks. I’ll think of something to create using a sampling of all these handcrafts.

Enough of crafts; I promised fashion in this post.

These gloves. They are beautiful. I wonder if my grandmother made them. They are way too small for my hand, but I assume they were my mother’s. Or perhaps they are older than that. There is no note. The mittens were purchased in Switzerland while my father was on R&R during the endless wait to come home after the war ended.

An incredibly soft nightgown and cover-up is my favorite find. Was it part of my mother’s trousseau? I am imagining it hurriedly purchased and packed in a footlocker with her also hurriedly purchased wedding dress and stowed in the baggage compartment of the train from Spokane to Dallas for a sudden wedding. My father left six weeks later to await deployment to the European Theater and was gone for more than two years. The negligee set shows no wear and tear. It’s going to Rebecca— the only one in the family it will fit—whether or not she wants it.

There are two boxes of scarves and jewelry I took out of my mother’s dresser drawers before donating her faux Early American maple bedroom suite. I combine them in the big box that used to have fabric in it to save for my sisters to go through. The only thing I want is the pin my father got her in Paris the first Christmas after he went overseas. Mostly I love it for the note, and imagining him purchasing it and her receiving it in the mail. He was not home the next Christmas. Nor the one after that.

Hidden from view behind the box of Indian baskets on the top shelf, I find a box of hats. Good golly, I’m glad I wasn’t a grown up back then. Some are my mother’s and some her mother’s. They went with the chunky-heeled black shoes with the small toe opening (long gone). I remember both of them in that get-up, with gloves, my mother in a pencil skirt.

And my father’s uniforms. I text my son Nicholas. He wants two of the jackets and the officer hat! I’m thrilled. They are one of those things that would be hard to place. Museums have all they want, and presumably so do community playhouses. I cannot put them in the landfill. Or even in fabric recycling. He had the Eisenhower jacket in the center made to order by a tailor in Ansbach, Germany after the war. He wrote my mother that he guessed he should have something to put his insignia on to show the grandkids. But he never did, nor did he show his children.

Hanging in the shallow closet where he kept his outdoor clothes, I find his grandpa shirts—my own craftiness, with Nicholas’s and Emma’s help. They were well worn, fraying at the color, a rip patched by my mother.

That about wraps up another foray into the dig site. I think I’m finished with crafts and fabric. I have a large load for fabric recycling, and another box to find a home for. On Thursday, I took a big bag of blankets to the Salvation Army just ahead of Friday’s flood. They were so grateful.

5 thoughts on “Excavating a Home: An Archeological Dig, Part Five

  1. I just love these glimpes into your family time-capsule. It’s mostly a marvel to think of what was kept and why and I think maybe we all keep things we imagine our future selves might find useful: surely someone will use the yarn and wear (quite exquisitely) the hats! The most touching part of all of this for me though is your childhood blanket. Worn thin from “rubbing it for comfort after nightmares” it gave my heart a flutter to know that she kept such a precious artifact. So sweet 💞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s crazy to me that she kept those pilled blankets. I suspect either she just didn’t know what else to do with it or you just never know when you might need another blanket. I had to put the electric blanket in the trash, even a dog shelter won’t take that. I took wool blankets to the Salvation Army, but they can’t be washed, so they may be rejected. The childhood blankets will go to a pet shelter. I’m a down comforter girl myself.


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