I NEVER KNEW

I Never Knew

When we packed up Mom’s belongings, my sisters and I did not take time to read through all the papers in her cedar chest. We looked for the necessary documents and dumped the rest in a box. I started sorting the files one winter afternoon. Mom kept every transfer order, citation, and shipping inventory from Dad’s service career beginning in 1939 when he entered the Civilian Conservation Corps to his retirement from the Air Force in 1969. I learned things about my father.  He served in two branches of the military; the Army Air Corps in World War II and then was recalled to the newly formed Air Force during the Korean War. He was an expert marksman. His fitness reports indicated he was respected by his peers and his superiors.

I enjoyed these revelations. They brought me closer to my dad, but I treasure his green notebook. You see, I met my grandfather that day. Frank Brown died in 1941; six years before my parents married and ten years prior to my birth. But when I read Dad’s handwritten stories, I met a wise, simple man who loved his family. I also learned where Dad got some of his homespun declarations like, “You will finish high school even if I have to take you to class and bounce you on my knee.”  I’m thankful we have this notebook.

Journaling and maintaining family records might seem frivolous, but they have a purpose. For example, they validate history. Think back to your history classes. How many times was a journal or set of letters cited to verify the facts surrounding an event? Mrs. Dickinson’s writings detailed the battle of the Alamo. Letters from the American West to families back East told of the hardships involved in settling the frontier. Homemakers’ recipes spoke of canning vegetables and making jams and jellies to feed the family during the winter months. These personal glimpses of history are priceless as they involve the common man and not just the historically famous names.

While I don’t believe it necessary to record putting the carrots in the Crockpot, I do suggest recording special events for posterity. I wish I had listened when my parents and grandparents spoke of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl days. I further wish I had recorded the stories. My nieces and nephews will never hear about the events from the viewpoint of a family member. There is nothing to pass on to them so that they will know their great-grand parents and great, great-grandparents contributions to history. My father was wiser than I. After all, I got to meet my grandfather seventy years after he died.

Cait Collins

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