Precious memories, neatly boxed


I had time for some real moments of reflection this month as I rooted through a couple of boxes in my parents’ basement. They have lived in the same house since the mid-1960s and, as you can imagine, have a basement full of mementos.

This was a serious trip down memory lane.

One box was filled with “treasures” from my high school and college years: Copies of newspapers from my first internship, an edited version of my very first interview, a recipe folder from my high school home economics class. Can you imagine learning to make a luncheon meat barbecue at age 16?

The contents of the other box were not familiar to me. I peeked at the newspaper used to wrap a large coffee-table book for clues: It was a copy of the New York Times from 1964!

Unlike the box of my goodies from the ’70s, which had been sitting on the somewhat damp concrete floor, this box from the early ’60s was on a shelf and everything was perfectly preserved.

And the box was filled with genuine family gems. Out of a large envelope fell letters that my grandmother had carefully saved. Most were written to my mother by her grandmother, an aunt and others. Some were written by my mother to others. What an amazing slice of life from times long ago! After I showed my mother, she spent the next few hours reliving the ’30s and early ’40s, when these gems were written.

There were folders with receipts of bills paid in my parents’ early years of marriage; tax returns written in pencil; several silver baby cups engraved with my name. I was also happy to find photos from my early years. I had never seen many photos from when I was a baby, and I figured that they just didn’t exist. But there I was in black and white, and grainy color, with some faded Polaroids thrown in.

But, in my opinion, the best part of the entire box was a panoramic photograph of my mother and her fellow campers at Camp Wohelo, in Pennsylvania, circa 1938 or 1939. She would have been 9 or 10 years old. The photo is well-preserved, though it had been rolled up all these years. It’s now being framed.

Finding this photo led us to wonder whether the all-girls overnight camp was still in existence, so we turned to Google. For those wondering – the Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, camp closed in the 1980s and the property is now part of Capital Camps, purchased by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to serve that community.

This discovery led to a discussion of other camps that family members had attended and more online searches and, well, you can probably imagine where this went: We spent hours happily reminiscing about summers gone by.

Sifting through the content of the boxes, looking at the photos and letters and talking about days long gone would normally have been a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with my parents. But after not seeing them for more than a year and a half due to the pandemic, it was an incredible gift.

None of us is getting any younger, and the time for hearing these stories is now. I only hope my memory stays as sharp as my mother’s so I can one day pass along the stories to my children and grandchildren.

For now, I will treasure the new information I learned and reflect on the pictures I brought home. And write down as much as I can remember!

Fran Ostendorf, Editor