September 4, 2018
This is not the first time I’ve come in Mom’s room and found her horizontal surfaces covered with stacks of old letters, poems, pictures and memorabilia that she’s sorting through. She puts items that go together in zip lock bags ready to be offered to the person most likely to be interested in them.
“Do you think anyone will want to read these letters? They have a lot of family history in them, but I don’t know how to contact any of the people anymore.”
It’s habit with me to think of Google for anything I don’t know and I suggest she plug in some names and try it. She pulls out some faded black and white photos on thick cardboard with finely scalloped edges. They are Christmas cards from three different years picturing a family. In one, parents, four children and dog are sitting, close together, on the floor in front of a fireplace. The room is darkened and light from the fire is glowing on their faces and casting shadows behind them. The father and his son are wearing suits and two of the girls have matching dresses. The mother is in shadow except for the top of her face and she is smiling. She wears glasses. They all look peaceful, happy as they gaze at the flames. Handwritten below is “A Merry Christmas from the G. Wesches”. I wonder who was taking such artful pictures back in 1950.
Another one has the children lined up in order of height and age and this one is signed by the parents and the names of the children are listed. They are Harold, Geraldine, Patricia and Alice Jean. I pick up my smartphone and plug the name Harold Wesche into the search bar. Mom explains that these people were not relatives but the family of a local doctor in her hometown. The doctor made house calls and impressed her as being such a kind man – and one who sent cards to his patients at holiday time.
The search engine comes up with over 100 records of this name and as I look at them I find one who is 82 years old – that would be about right. The website gets to work collecting and verifying information on Harold. I know they are going to charge something at the end, and that we are not going to buy anything from them, but the small paragraph they give us for free does help Mom remember. He is the Harold in the Christmas picture. She remembers more.
There was one summer that this family vacationed at Meyer’s Log Cabin Resort on Round Lake. Mom’s friend Donna was asked to come with the family to help entertain the children. They let Gwen (Mom) come along to keep Donna company. This was quite a treat for both Gwen and Donna to have a week at the lake. The Wesche children were cute kids too, so it was not an undesirable responsibility.
One day the parents took the children with them on an outing. Donna and Gwen were given the day off to do whatever they liked at the resort. They decided they would take a boat ride. They went out into the middle of this fairly large lake and felt very adventurous.
This story interests me because Meyers Log Cabins was less than a mile from the farm where Mom and Dad went to live after they were married six years later. I grew up visiting my friend Barbara Meyer and swimming in Round Lake at that resort. I have never heard of Mom’s experience there and she said she would not have thought to tell me of it if the Christmas pictures had not been found. She is still trying to pull out the end of the story from the memory bank.
“I don’t know what we did but it might have been something that made us feel a little guilty. I think it had something to do with hot dogs. Maybe we took more of them than we should have…” I laugh, because Mom still loves hot dogs.
“Do you think it might not be good to dig through all this stuff, all these memories from so long ago?” she asks.
I tell her I think it’s okay, and the truth is I think it’s a gift to remember stories from the past. It’s an opportunity to think of people, to wonder about them, and especially to mention them in prayer. It is never too late to care, to look for someone, to possibly even get in touch with them and tell them a story.
So, if Harold Wesche or any of his family reads this story, Mom wants to know if you’d like to have these pictures of your younger self. If not, I will keep them to remind myself of one of the reasons I am glad to have come back to Wisconsin to do life with Mom. I want to hear more stories that I’ve never heard before.