Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Strangers In The Box

"Strangers In The Box"

     I have mentioned in the past how fortunate I am to come from a family that saved what seemed to be meaningless items of the time, but items that turned out to be of the most treasured value in recording my family's heritage. 
     One of the most cherished of all the possessions passed down to me was my Great Grandfather's Ditty Box. 
     Great Grandfather, Edward Francis Ives, began his younger years as a ship's carpenter. I think of him almost every day in my Heirloom Art Studio as I have many of his hand tools which I use daily in my work.  I particularly love his small hand drill. This scaled, precision instrument I use every time I frame artwork and am required to make tiny, accurate drill holes in the back of picture frames to hold screws for hanging mechanisms. 
     Frank (or E.F. as he often signed his name) worked his way up through the ranks until he became a licensed sailing Captain on the Great Lakes, particularly on the Canadian side of Lake Erie.  
     A Ditty Box acts as a sailor's strongbox for personal possessions.  Above you will see Great Grandfather's box and notice the hand painted trees and corner decorations in black paint.  No one recalls who painted the decoration but, as I have many small drawings of ships on the water drawn by Frank himself, I prefer to believe the decoration was personally painted by my ancestor.  As an artist, myself, it makes me feel closer to this man whom I feel so drawn to, yet, never knew. 
     The Ditty Box was given to me when I was eight years old and held many records of my family's past.  Inside were hand-written letters dating back to 1820, original photographs in pristine condition, deeds, land agreements, court documents, sales receipts, newspaper clippings and much, much more.  So much history placed carefully inside a simple wooden container less than twelve inches wide.  
     The collection dated back to the days of my Great Great Grandparents, Francis Edward and Angeline Ives (seen side by side in the upper right photograph in the image above).  Francis Ives kept everything written on paper he deemed important to remember and thus passed the collection down through subsequent generations who added more and more to the contents as the years passed. 
     I feel incredibly fortunate to have this collection in that it tracks my family's history in personal and descriptive details most genealogists could only hope to find.  Without even going to official records or archives, my family is recorded back six generations and the people and places to which they traveled or lived are described in such detail as to make them more than just a group of unknown people with names and dates.  These family members have come alive in both photograph and written word.  I feel so honoured and privileged to own such a collection that makes my past and my family real persons. 
     Alas......not all family's are as fortunate.  A quick glance at the newsstand offerings or television show schedules reveals that others desperately seek answers to their past.  Because of the demand for answers and information, the internet is filled with sites and locations for genealogical research and cities, libraries and associations are being asked to get their records digitized and/or online for ease of research.  
     When people neglect to write and record their history the past is forgotten and information is lost.   One thinks the most mundane information isn't important enough to write down or that, surely, future generations will remember everything that was told to them but, this simply isn't true. 
     While exhibiting my restoration services at an Italian Heritage Conference, in Canada, in 2009, my good friend, Henrietta, was speaking to a group of attendees trying to impress upon them the importance of submitting their family histories to her Italian research project.  The group was resistant to the suggestion that it was important to record each and every family's memories and histories.  Several claimed, "I know who I am and my children don't care about the information." 
     With that statement, Henri calmly and emphatically stated, "You're absolutely right.  You're children don't care.  You're not recording your history for your children, you are preserving it for your Grandchildren and future generations.  It is them who will care and who will need to know who they are and where they came from."  Wow!  Truer words were never spoken. 
     It seems that everything skips a generation.  During the Depression (the first one!) families had to scrimp and save, make their own clothes, construct their own quilts, put up fruit preserves, smoke meats and more.  I'm not old enough to have lived through the Depression, but growing up, year after year I, myself, was expected to help can vegetables, cook relishes, pack pickles and stuff the freezer full of cut corn and other necessities to get my parents and siblings through another single winter to the next growing season.  
     I can't recall how many times have I heard people state that their lives were filled with such demands they would never place the same expectations on their children or that their children took no interest in their parent's pursuits be it demands or pleasures.   I never made this claim myself but, I suppose I am guilty of it's train of thought.  Although I did teach my daughter how to sew, she can no more make jam than she could knit a sweater or use my table saw.  It just didn't seem important to pass on these skills to her and she showed little interest in what I knew how to do in some areas. 
     My mother, Betty Ives, is a world renown quilting instructor and has spent most of her career teaching young (and older) woman how to quilt.   These are woman who's Grandmothers quilted but, who's mothers were never given the information because it was not a necessity and they could just as easily purchase a blanket at a department store as they could invest in fabrics and hours of time to make something to keep them warm.  The quilting technique and skill was lost only to be desired by that third generation.  
     You're not doing it for your children, you are doing it for your Grandchildren! 
     With that thought in mind, and another reminder to write down information and save it for those who come after you, let me leave you with the following poem.  It is something I have had in my collection of writings for some time and, unfortunately, cannot claim to know it's author or origin.  It is, however, a most remarkable and heartfelt piece of literature which I wish to share with you all.

"The Strangers In The Box"
by Pamela A. Harazim, 1997

Come, look with me inside this drawer, 
In this box I've often seen, 
At the pictures, black and white
Faces proud, still, serene. 

I wish I knew the people, 
These strangers in the box, 
Their names and all their memories
Are lost among my socks. 

I wonder what their lives were like, 
How did they spend their days? 
What about their special times? 
I'll never know their ways. 

If only someone had taken time
To tell who, what, where, or when, 
These faces of my heritage 
Would come to life again. 

Could this become the fate
Of the pictures we take today? 
The faces and the memories
Some to pass away?

Make time to save your stories, 
Seize the opportunity when it knocks, 
Or someday you and yours could be......
The strangers in the box. 

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