Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Serendipity Gift for Christmas

Our mother knew that she was going to die soon and she started giving items to people or sharing information about her collections that would guide us as we go through her belongings. Like the comments to both my sister and I that we would have to fight over the glass bowl in the cupboard above the refrigerator. We have not had ready access to her belongings, but through the process of creating a list of items of sentimental value to be removed at this time we received some of them.

Serendipity has been guiding me as we have been able to enter her home and remove those items that are of sentimental value to us. The dividing of personal property is a process. Our mother remarried in 1991, after the death of our father in 1988, and so many of her things are a part of our family history and have a great significance to us.

On our first visit we received thirteen boxes of her clothing, shoes, purses, three boxes of family photo albums and a box of her jewelry. The second visit we received her china, crystal glass items, some books, the family dining room table and other items from the list. For Christmas Eve dinner at my brother's home we used the table and her china. I am very pleased that everyone will receive some of these items. As her personal representative I bear the responsibility of knowing where the inventoried items are until after closure of probate. It is exhausting, but there have been some very wonderful discoveries in the process.

On Christmas Eve I turned to a book that I now have, that my mother pointed out to me. I don't remember her exact words, but she made me realize it was a book from my father's family. So I took it home and it sat in my office for a couple of weeks. In opening the book to examine it the signature of my grandmother Zella A. Straw and the words Christmas 1922 about jumped off the page. Over the next couple of days it felt like I was drawn into my grandmother's world over ninety years ago.

The book is, "The Worn Doorstep", written by Margaret Sherwood in 1916. In 1922 my grandmother, age nineteen, was living in Sherwood, Oregon. Zella always loved to read. When her mother died in 1908, Zella was five, and her father continued to raise her even though other relatives wanted to adopt her. She had two step-mothers. The first married her father in 1917 and she had three young children ages 7, 6, and 2. They had one child, Raymond her half-brother in 1918, but were divorced in 1921. Her step-mother moved to Arizona, and her Raymond died there in 1931. Her second step-mother married her father in 1923, but in between Zella had been sent to live in Oregon with her deceased mother's sister's family.

Zella attended college in Newberg, Oregon and had many opportunities in living with her relatives in Sherwood. In 1926 she married Carl Olsen and they were married until his passing in 1979. At that time, because she had never lived alone, she came to live with our young family. We were married just a year before and our daughter was just a month old. It was a great opportunity for us to share precious time together. Our mother loved the book, Opal, as the character of the book seemed so to reflect our grandmother. That book was given to my sister.

"The Worn Doorstep" offers an amazing view of England during the Great War. A young American woman, who lost her beloved English boyfriend in one of the first battles of the war, decides to stay in England and sets up a household in a small town cottage. My mind wanders to the feelings my grandmother must have experienced as she lived through the time period of this horrible war. She was only nineteen as she read about the events of the war that could hardly be truly understood by someone living in Sherwood, Oregon.

Grandpa Carl was away at Oregon State Agricultural College when the war began. When it seemed that more young man would be called up to be sent to fight in Europe, young man at the college began training so they would be prepared when the call came. The program began in 1917 and was disbanded by December 1918. His World War I Registration Card lists the date of enlistment as Sept. 12, 1918 and he was twenty. He never left the U.S. Carl and Zella would not meet until some years later in Sherwood.

What did the Great War really mean to the people who stayed behind? Those who watched sons, fathers, and other people leave for such a foreign place, with the possibility that many would not return.
I am not going to tell you any more of the story within "The Worn Doorstep" as it is a free book for download on the internet and you would probably enjoy reading it yourself. It is a fairly quick read of 196 pages. In 1917 it was one of ten war related books on the best sellers list. 

Bestsellers over the Years, LibraryThing, W A R - B O O K S

In the process of the probate I have also been receiving my mother's mail for the past four months, including several magazines. One of my favorites is, "Good Housekeeping", and tonight I was reading the January 2014 issue. The last pages include a delightful story about Deer Isle, Maine, pages 142-149 by April Smith, which is adapted from her book, "A Star for Mrs. Blake" to be published in 2014. The story is about a mother sending her only child, a son, off to war in 1917 and he died October 1918 in France. The story also includes information about how the War Department in 1930-1933 sent the mothers and widows whose children were buried in foreign cemeteries on a trip to the burial sites of their children. Again I encourage you to look up the article for some very interesting reading. 

These authors provide insight into very important historic events that impacted our ancestor's lives. It is wonderful to accidently run into them in materials that we chance to encounter. My goal for 2014 is to read more historical novels, whether they be fiction with historical facts or family histories. We need to see beyond the shortened versions of history that we have been taught to capture the human impacts of those times. My grandmother Zella imbedded in me the love of reading and now having a copy of a book that she cherished is one of the best serendipity gifts that I could receive.

The Worn Doorstep by Margaret Pollock Sherwood, free download


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