Returning Those Pictures Home

Last year when I drove to New Jersey, I took the opportunity to check out the storage unit, which was filled with  boxes placed there after the sale of Grandma’s house. Some contained familiar dishes, glasses, holiday decorations, and lots of old photos. You all know which boxes I grabbed.

I spent a lot of time after that trip making amateur-ish attempts to market my book, so I had hardly looked at the contents.  In March, I had my hip surgery, so suddenly, I had lots of time on my hands to really examine those old albums. Many are falling apart, so I am hoping to remove many of those photos and place them in a new one in time for my July visit.

There is one album in particular that I have been having a lot of fun viewing, because it contains labeled photos of her World War II pen pals. How sweet! Since most are just random people rather than family, I decided it would be fun to return them to the men in the photos or their relatives. They would be more meaningful to them than to me or Grandma.

Using the tools I use to build my family tree, I set to work. If the person was deceased (which I could find using the Social Security Death Records on, I usually was able to find an obituary, which almost always listed the surviving family. Most were on Facebook, and when I reached out to them and explained that I possessed wartime photos of their father/grandfather/brother, all wanted the originals. No one asked how I found them, which I thought was especially interesting, particularly when the names did not even match.

The Boonton Facebook page—You Just Might be a Boonton-ite If…—was very helpful in locating family members. Six matches were the direct result of that page.

One match was a daughter of Grandma’s pen pal, who told me that my cousin Billy was her seventh-grade boyfriend.

Another picture was sent to the daughter of Grandma’s eighth-grade boyfriend. She was thirteen and he was fifteen. His daughter had never seen any pictures of her dad and that age. He grew up to be a brilliant man who has been honored on the Boonton High Hall of Fame. Grandma recalled that Uncle Rich didn’t like him because he was so smart.

A second album contained mostly family members . I found a living first cousin of Grandma, whose parents died when he was very young. I was contacted by his daughter on Facebook after posting a note to his wife. When I initially sent the digital pictures, she showed them to him and she told me that “He is sitting there crying with emotion.”

Apparently he had a massive stroke, so I was told that “He just gets very emotional now and he is touched someone remembers him.” Grandma enjoyed hearing about her long-lost cousin, and she shared a few memories of visiting him after his parents divorced.

The album from Grandma and Grandpa’s courtship through their return from their honeymoon contained the photo of a couple and their one-year old daughter, who had recently died. Her obituary lead me to her sister, who informed me that her dad was still alive and living not far from Grandma.

He and his wife met Grandma and Grandpa in Texas when they both were called back to service during the Korean War. Joe is 93 now, and in great shape. I told him where Grandma was living, and one day, he and his daughter paid Grandma a surprise visit. Although Aunt Ar worried that Grandma would not recognize him, that was not the case. Grandma told me that Joe hadn’t changed much—“he has the same nose.” Joe told his daughter the exact same thing about Grandma. We both thought that was very cute.

So about once a week, I return to those old albums looking for more matches. I found two more this week! It is a win-win project because I am cleaning up my house and, at the same time, making someone happy in the process.

American Dream- Part I

If I asked  you at different stages of your lives to verbalize your “American Dream”, how many times would your answers differ? Your looking glasses would be constantly evolving and be influenced by the classes you took, people you met, books you read, the media, and the world around you.

When I was in seventh grade, my crystal ball predicted that I would become a teacher. Apparently I believed I had too much homework, because my “past me” saw my “future me” as follows: “She won’t give them homework because she feels they should have some free time.”

That never happened, because when teaching jobs became scarce, it was Grandpa who suggested I enroll in a few computer courses and that sent me down a different road. Except for the few years teaching at St. Pius School, my seventh-grade dream of becoming a teacher was never fulfilled.

It seems I enjoyed being part of a large family back then, because when I looked to my future, I saw “my twelfth baby getting married.” You know what, girls? Three was quite nice, thank you very much!

What did come true was “mobs of friends, relatives, and more relatives.” I foresaw a secure job, a happy marriage and children as “a good life, with plenty of laughs and good memories.”

The “real job”, which I defined earlier as one in which taxes and social security are deducted, was short-lived. It ended when Kelly was born and reappeared briefly during those few years teaching at St. Pius. When I predicted my future, I never expected to have such a short career. But is life ever predictable?

Dad was on the road for so many years. We decided to have him travel rather than to move with him, so I stayed home and volunteered for everything: hot dog lunch, pizza lunch, field day organizer, Girl Scout leader, class mom, library aid, yearbook editor, senior citizen’s lunch, PTA Vice President, Newsletter copier, Sunday School teacher, Montville town fish fry dinner organizer, newcomer committee, forensic judge, and forensic tournament food chairman. (I never contributed taxes to those jobs so by my own definition, I never worked during those years.)  Did you liked my involvement in those activities or did you cringe with all my constant appearances at your schools? For me, it was a way for me to spy on you and your teachers from the inside.

When Casey got hit with years of mysterious migraines which began in Montville and finally ended when she went to college, all thoughts of rejoining the workforce disappeared. I think that’s why I enjoy my obsessive hobby of researching our deceased ancestors and writing my two books. It’s the job I never got to do but now one I can do on my own terms and with a honey of a boss!

Maybe no one cares (yet) that we had a cousin who invented a torpedo and another who once jumped on one. I hope that someday you will want to know the story of my great- great grandfather who served in the Civil War, the cousin whose paintings hang in museums in Europe or the cousin who was a chauffeur for the head of Warner Brothers Studios. Someday you will also learn of the family who died in the concentration camps in Germany. But for now, you have your own dreams to chase; your own wishes to fulfill. I understand that.

My dream for you is like that of all parents. I hope, in the end, you have “a good life, with plenty of laughs and good memories.” I hope when you look back, you think Dad and I helped make that dream come true.