This morning I opened up an old steamer trunk and stepped into the past. The trunk once belonged to my parents and is filled with ephemera from days long ago.
I carefully read through a yellowed and torn copy of The Harvey Herald dated July 28, 1927 where the front page story told that “after a nice refreshing rain, on an ideal Sunday morning, automobiles from Harvey and the neighborhood ploughed through the mud to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gustav Brauer seven miles west of Harvey to celebrate their golden wedding together with relatives and outside friends about 300 in all.” My nine-year-old dad served as gift bearer at the ceremony.
I held Dad’s army uniform and marveled at the small waist size on the pants. I looked at photographs of him wearing that same dress uniform. I opened the box containing his medals and remembered him sitting on the edge of his bed polishing them every November 11th. I read through his Canadian Army Soldier’s Service and Pay Book–a book that he was instructed to keep on his person at all times. Tucked inside the front cover were a few photographs, an inside page listed his next of kin, and subsequent pages his service records and last will and testament.
I carefully unfolded a thin and yellowing piece of paper with the heading BBC News 8 May 45 that appeared to be a transcription of a radio broadcast. I got a lump in my throat as I read the first lines.
Today is Victory in Europe Day. The official announcement will be broadcast by Mr. Churchill at 1300 hours G.M.T. At 1900 hrs G.M.T. the King will broadcast to his people. The King has sent his congratulations to General Eisenhower on the success of the Allied Armies.
I lost myself for an hour or so reading through a stack of letters Dad wrote to Mom before, and just after, they married in 1948. Dad was always a prolific letter writer right until he died. These letters were filled with news of his day, expressions of love for my mom, and even his own unique sense of humour. (“I just washed my hair and I can’t do a THING with it.”) I admired Mom’s wedding dress, smiled over their wedding invitation, guest list, cards from well-wishes, lists of gifts received, and read a newspaper clipping telling of the day’s events. There was even a letter from the hotel in Winnipeg confirming their reservation for the day after the wedding, and many photographs.
I admired stacks of beautiful handkerchiefs that once belonged to my grandma, wrapped myself in Mom’s heavy seal skin fur coat, held a baby’s red winter coat and bonnet that had been mine, and laughed as I lifted a little doll I had once named “Eddie” from the bottom of the trunk.
Then I picked up a bottle of Dad’s aftershave–Roman Brio–that I took home with me 32 years ago after he died suddenly. I was almost surprised to find it still contained liquid and, as I twisted the cap, I wondered what it would smell like after all these years. Tears came to my eyes as I held the bottle to my nose and memories of my dad filled the room. It smelled exactly the same; it smelled just like my dad.
The original reason for my foray into the past was that I was looking for some things to use in the still life family portrait project I mentioned yesterday. I had intended to spend the afternoon taking pictures but instead I lost myself in the past, learned some things I hadn’t known before, and Mom and Dad became alive for me again after so many years.
One day I’ll have to get rid of these things that are priceless to me, but for the time being I’ll tuck them all back inside the trunk for safekeeping where they’ll stay until I have occasion to travel back in time again.