Even though I hadn’t opened the trunk in over fifty years, I knew at least some of the items I would find there. In fact, I remember when we had put them in. First, of course, would be the Kennedy newspapers, carefully placed into what would be their home for the next half century a mere two days after the events in Dallas. It made me laugh to think how, when Mom and I had put them away, we couldn’t even have begun to imagine the year 2014, much less that these papers would be worth only about fifty dollars in that distant time. And that would be if they were in good condition, which I soon saw that these weren’t.
There were other newspapers in there, too. There were copies published nearly six years later, declaring that “Man Walks on Moon.” I remembered the headline but forgot that the front page date on that historic day had been cleverly written as “Moonday, July 21st 1969.” And there was another paper from 1969, The Daily News, that announced what might not have been considered a tragedy on par with some of the other world events of that time, but try to convince a kid who was a big baseball fan of that. “I just can’t hit anymore,” said the quote, and with that Mickey Mantle had announced his retirement.
There were other items in the trunk, which we had actually referred to as the “cedar chest” because, well, that’s what it was. The saddest of them all for me, even sadder that the headlines of assassinations and the retirement of sports heroes, was my mother’s wedding dress. Unless my mother had tried it on somewhere along the way, and I don’t think she did, the last time the dress had been worn was in 1950, when my mom was a twenty-two year old girl. Along with the wedding dress were two faded wedding favors, still filled with the traditional candied almonds.
Also in the cedar chest were several late 19th century bibles, a discovery that might have excited me years ago, before I realized that books from that era were quite common, and as such had little value. Still, I enjoyed, as always, carefully flipping to the copyright page and finding the date of publication. Even more poignant were the occasional names handwritten into the books, sometimes accompanied by an inscription, always written in that elegant 19th century style. “For William, Christmas 1883, from Father James,” said one.
And there were the scraps. Not complete newspapers by any stretch of the imagination, but simply browned, crumbly bits of paper that had been piled together for fifty years, and perhaps much longer. A cursory examination of the decaying papers gave me no clues as to who might have saved these relics, or why. There was no common thread that I could decipher, and the topics were as varied as much as the time periods the papers had spanned. Advertising, sports, classifieds and news were all there, although no major world events that I was familiar with were represented.
And yet to me the fragile fragments, breaking up more and more with each of my touches, were no less interesting because of their lack of momentous historic headlines. In fact, most of the pages were utterly fascinating. And at that moment I knew that I would return to examine the artifacts at a later date, when I could spend more time, and be more methodical.
And so, as gently as I could, I returned the stack of scraps to the dark place where they had lay hidden undisturbed for over five decades, careful not to let any of the desiccated brown flecks flutter down onto my mother’s faded white wedding dress.