Message In a Box

The glove box was my first grown-up hidey hole. My Grandmother literally understood the compartment as a place to store driving gloves, but with my Father’s prompting when I got my driver’s license, it became a receptacle for necessary evils.

More to the point the box was a repository where useful research and record keeping could abide: a small notebook to record oil changes – tire rotations and such, a bottle opener, torn bits of paper and napkins bled with hand written directions and paper maps folded and refolded by my Father marked in red from Point A to Point B.

Wishing today that I still had those documents of proof on how we made our way pre-internet. I focus on the cylinder of record keeping because consciously or unconsciously even with the internet, some of us still toss things which we are not yet willing to part into a drawer or box.

D’s brother just sent him a packet of the things from their mother Ethel’s box that pertained to only him – certificates, cards, letters, photos, newspaper clippings, all proof of her devotion with tidbits of what constituted the landscape of his life as she saw it.

We scoured through her chosen highlights concerning him as the pre-seventy life review that it was. In going through another brother’s pile, my sister-in-law commented that it looks like her husband had a happy childhood after all.

Really it’s clear to me now that such documents reveal clues which we aren’t able to diagnose at a young age. Events chronicled are blessedly and yet disastrously empty of dimension when we are young; the richer diagnosis gone with the wind when needed, their clues relegated to a box labeled trash.

Maybe it’s too much to delve into an ever widening timeline. Still pointers offered in the ephemera of an ancestor’s life could be introspective-gold. Imagine a cozy chat with a genetically matched somebody who could sound out “if onlys” to stem the tide? Perhaps such storytelling could reveal why we have progressed in some arenas, but then become mired in the quick sand of ego in others.

Sometimes we hide in pictures painted of the good ole days. My Yazoo City Grandfather once commented on that absurd fantasy. He said, “Good ole days for whom?” He would embellish: “Think of having a rotten tooth pulled without pain relief because that was the only option in summertime without air-conditioning”.

The past holds endearments for us all, but the darkness brought on by a lack of illumination is not the place for my children’s children’s children. I can imagine how disappointed our forebears would be with a dismissal of their trials.

Fraternal Great Grandmother Carlie

Such woolgathering led me once again to sort through a box of Great Grandmother Carlene Cater Blanks and eureka. I found a document that trembles with portrayals of her day. Written 123 years ago and yet it details current topics.

Curiouser it was produced on October 19,1897 with a typewriter’s purple ribbon. At the time the typewriter was the latest in writing technology having been invented within the shadow of the American Civil War.

Two heavy cotton cream pages were inscribed for my Great Grandmother’s eyes only. A fellow named Walter from Montgomery, Alabama addressed her home in Selma only 50 miles away.

He begins

My dear Carlie:
“Do not think I am crazy for writing to you on my typewriter, but Maxie is over to my house to-night and is so selfish as to appropriate pen, ink, paper etc. for himself leaving me without any.” ~ consider that letter writing was entertainment and only the handwritten variety was appropriate

Walter continues

“Maxie has run away from the Yellow Fever, it being in his part of town and is now bunking with me.” ~ from 1817 to 1905 Yellow Fever took more than 41,000 lives in New Orleans just 4 hours south of Montgomery ~ advances like vaccines and sanitation systems had not been devised for the protection of the population

“The mails are traveling so very irregular these days on account of the prevailing malady. We have here, in addition to Yellow Fever, also Smallpox and Scarlet Fever. There must have been an exodus of about two to three thousand people from here in the past five or six days”. ~ Many ways to die before vaccines and antibiotics were invented ~ the world pandemic of Scarlet Fever lasted from 1820 to 1880 but then was staved off with the invention of antibiotics ~ my Great Grandmother lost her little sister to Small Pox by that time and her own arms were severely scarred while overcoming the infection herself ~ “Routine Smallpox vaccination among the American public stopped in 1972 after the disease was eradicated in the United States – CDC”

“Maxie told me the other day that he had a very urgent invitation to come to Selma’s Fair, on SATURDAY, and he also said the catalogue shows that day as the day set apart for the COLORED LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. I would not mind being a colored person about now, as I hear they do not take yellow fever.” ~ Heartbreaking Ignorance

Walter goes on to say that he accepted a new job at “the plant system” but his boss now has Yellow Fever and though he would like to pay his respects, his physician advised him not to as he lives in the “infected portion of Montgomery which I am glad to say is about two miles from our house – a part of town which has been “quarantined as to passengers, freight, badge, Etc.”

He closes

“I shall hope to hear from you soon, with a long letter. With love, I am as ever, yours devotedly, Walter”

Carlene Cater Blanks’s conundrums are still at large. Who knows why my Mema’s things were kept long past her lifetime. The torn, yellowed and narly boxed collective was an unlikely tipoff of what to avoid and what to be grateful.

Even the Father of Our Country who was bold enough to create a job from scratch said: “We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.” All to say insight can begin with the stuff we cast aside.

Check your boxes for keys to improvements for the prodigy. Opportunity abounds. Statistics have it that around 10,000 babies will be born in the United States tomorrow and surely they would gain from dispatches from our misadventures.