Thursday, June 10, 2010

Attic Treasures

We live in a big old farmhouse – a home that my dear husband’s family moved into many years ago.  Before we met, my husband renovated the house, enlarging rooms and switching things up quite a bit.  The area that had formerly been a summer kitchen and cistern was converted into a garage and the second story above that was left unfinished.  That has become a very useful storage area and houses everything from our shop’s bookkeeping archives to odd chairs and stray pieces of furniture.  Occasionally, I pop into that area looking for something specific and get lost in the paraphernalia of bygone years

I never got to meet my parents-in-law as they both passed on long before I met my husband.  Because the living part of our house has been totally renovated since they have been gone, there are really no clues to their personalities in that part of our home.  But the storage area is filled with all kinds of memorabilia!  There are old fashioned copper kettles that my mother-in-law used for canning, an old scrub board that she used to do the wash.  There are funny old toiletry items that belonged to my father-in-law, like the straight razor that he used to shave everyday since apparently he never trusted the “new-fangled” razors to give him a close shave. 

Since we got married, I’ve been on a hunt to find something more personal – like maybe a letter my mother-in-law might have written and hidden somewhere with a big bold heading on the envelope: “TO MY FUTURE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW” – a letter in which she will tell me how sad she is that she never met me, but assure me that she is delighted that her only son has finally found such a wonderful partner.  Thus far I have found nothing quite so romantic, but a girl can dream!

There is an old trunk of my mother-in-law's that I like to open once and while.  Today I went up and rummaged around in that trunk hoping to find a remnant of material that might work for a chair I’m making over.  I’ve found some different pieces, one of which I think might work:

And some funny old sewing notions, like this strange “cover your own buckle” kit:

And this great pattern for smocked curtains, a pattern that apparently only cost 35 cents!

There is this lovely jumble of old embroidery floss, yarn and crochet work housed in what looks to be a shaving kit:

And then I found this great gem – an old newspaper from 1962 lining the bottom of the trunk!  What a wealth of humourous information this has proven to be.  Almost, but not quite, as great as finding a letter directed to my dear self from my deceased but none-the-less appreciative mother-in-law.  

Some of the highlights were in the advertisements, like this one advertising a dry cleaner.  Only 88 cents to dry clean a dress or 39 cents for a pair of trousers!

Apparently apples were only $1 a bushel ....

And you could buy a "bouffant crinoline" at Simpson Sears for a mere $2.44.

And who knew that Ann Landers was so good-looking when she was young?!

Some of the articles were absolutely hilarious.  The section of the  newspaper is called "Women's Pages" and includes this article:

Sorry it's so fuzzy but basically it explains that the school board had almost made the "mistake" of ordering teachers' desks without ashtrays!  Fortunately, one of the trustees caught the mistake before the order was placed.  Can't imagine teachers ever being allowed to smoke in a classroom, can you?   They can't even smoke anywhere near school property now!

This article really made me chuckle:

"The age of chivalry is not dead in Hamilton courts.  During a divorce action in the Supreme Court of Ontario, a woman broke down on the stand.  While answering questions, she desperately searched for a handkerchief in her handbag.  Not finding one, she wiped away tears with her hand.  Her counsel, Donald Cooper, strode to the witness box proffering an immaculately folded white handkerchief.  Proceedings continued, with the woman dabbing at her eyes with her gratefully-accepted gift.  Her divorce was granted."

Isn't that too funny?  I just can't believe that made it into the newspaper!

But back to the subject of my mother-in-law, I haven't found any secret letters from her yet.  In fact, there are  very little of what you could call "personal items" anywhere to be found ... a few post cards from friends (but mostly written in Hungarian), an old well-worn Bible, and her wire-rimmed eyeglasses are pretty much all there is.  But going through her belongings does give me some clues about her personality.  She was obviously a woman who loved her family and did everything she could to make ends meet.  She saved little scraps of material to patch clothing or to make rag rugs (some of which we still have).  She tried very hard to make "special" dresses for my husband's sisters, saving little bits of fancy trim to be reused and recycled.  And she didn't spend a lot of money on things for herself, so perhaps that's why her personal items are so limited.

Here's a picture of my in-laws on their wedding day.  Don't they look lovely?

So I guess I'll keep hunting just in case there is a special letter that my mother-in-law has left for me somewhere mixed in with all those "attic treasures," but part of me realizes that the real message is an unwritten and unspoken one from a woman who lived simply and loved her family.


  1. I don't know anything about your in-laws (obviously), but I know that my grandparents came from a time of lack. As did their parents. Life was hard and you threw nothing away. My great grandmother who lived during the Great Depression was forever saving things like cotton out of bottles and rubber bands. Also stray pieces of lace and items that would have me scratching my head. I didn't understand that those were things that you just COULD NOT GET during those times. When she died she had a drawer filled with that kind of stuff. There was a ball of string in there. Each time she found a piece of string she added it to the ball. Again, the idea of string being "valuable" was hard to wrap my brain around. I think you found your mother-in-law's treasure chest with that trunk. I could be all wrong... it happens a lot.

  2. Oh Helen, i just love this story! A handsome couple, your in-laws, and it's very sad you never got to meet them - i am SURE that they would have been delighted to no end with you :)

    The newspaper is fantastic! :D 88¢ to dryclean a dress?? i took Tess's prom frock in and was told it'd start at $75 (i think that's the only time i've ever entered a drycleaning store...) It's definitely a different world we inhabit - and i'll bet the newspapers in '62 were subjected to much better proof-reading as well!

    i think you're so wonderful :)

  3. Robin, I think you're absolutely right - that was probably my mother-in-law's "treasure chest" - things come so easily to us now it's hard to imagine saving little scraps of things and considering them valuable enough to stow away in a cedar-lined trunk. Love the story of the ball of string - I can totally imagine someone doing that!

    Grace, thank-you, thank-you, THANK-YOU! It is very kind of you to suggest my in-laws would have been delighted with me. Always something I worry about for some strange reason.

    And $75 to dryclean Tess's prom dress? Yikes! I guess things have really changed since 1962!!!

  4. This was a very sweet post to read and made me realize how fortunate I am to have known my husband's parents. Their wedding photo is so lovely and I hope maybe you have other pictures of them as well. ~Lili

  5. Oh, Ro! Your mother-in-law did leave a letter of which you are the recipient of...her son!

    PS If I had a son, I'd want him to marry someone just like you!

  6. Lili, I'm glad to say we have other pictures as well, although this one is probably my favourite. My mother-in-law's health suffered severely after she had her children. She had rheumatic fever when she was young and that left her with a faulty heart valve. She wasn't supposed to have children because of that but wanted them badly. On top of that, she married later in life (35) so by the time she had her 3 children, she was in her late 30's. That put a lot of stress on her physically. Her wedding picture is the one pic we have where she looks really healthy and strong.

    Purple Cow, what a beautiful thought! I told my husband what you said about him being a letter from his mother to me. "He-Who-Speaks-Little-but-Loves-a-lot" got a huge grin on his face. :)

  7. It's so amazing that you have all of that in your attic... And to know that it came from family and not just some random person... Wow...

    And that newspaper is awesome! They should go back to reporting things like that, now THAT'S NEWS!



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