Cammie was bored. The ten-hour car trip with her mother, grandmother and aunts was bad enough, but when they reached her great aunt’s house, there was literally nothing to do. No Wi-Fi, no TV, nothing.
Her great aunt Gertrude recently had a health scare, so they wanted to visit her while they could. Gertrude lived alone in their ancestral home and was the keeper of the family line. She kept the family stories to pass onto stories other women in the line to ensure they would not be forgotten. Cammie’s mother included her on this all-girl tour to get some first-hand knowledge of her heritage.
For hours, the women talked, drank tea and looked at picture scrapbooks. But Cammie rolled her eyes and counted the tiles on the kitchen walls while she pretended to look.
These are just a bunch of old pictures of people I don’t know, she thought. Why should I care?
She excused herself to use the bathroom and found a hallway full of doors. Her aunt said the bathroom was on the left, but there were two doors on the left. Cammie opened one and saw a narrow stairway. She flicked the light switch and climbed the stairs. The steps were so narrow her feet were nearly too big for them.
“This is the most exciting thing that happened to me in two days,” she laughed.
She followed the stairway to the top and looked into the room. It didn’t look like attics she saw in the movies or on TV; it just looked like a room. It had bright lights, as there were no windows, white linoleum floor, white walls and ceilings and different colored sheets thrown over mysterious objects.
“Now this is more like it. Let the adventure begin.” Cammie ran around the room taking the sheets off one by one.
First, she unveiled a beautiful wood dressing table with an attached ornate three-way mirror. Cammie looked into the drawers and found a beaded purse with fringe, some small gold metal boxes and a silver comb and brush. Next to that was a bookcase full of old leather books.
Then she found a chest full of fabric and clothes, an old record player with a big horn, and a weird square treadmill with a big while belt attached to it. With each new item, she looked with fresh interest and anticipation until the next find. After she was done, she surveyed the room again and wondered what they were all used for? How old they were? And who they belonged to?
“There’s a tale for each one of these treasures,” great aunt Gertrude said as she hobbled up the stairs with her cane. Cammie was so entranced in her adventure she didn’t even hear her coming.
“Is this an attic auntie?” Cammie helped her sit in a big velvet chair she uncovered.
“It was an attic when the home was built, but when there were more kids in the family than bedrooms, it was used as a bedroom. Over time, it became the final resting place for all their treasures.”
“Who?” Cammie asked.
“The Cole women, of course. Each piece tells a tale of the women in our family.” Gertrude pointed to the vanity.
“That dressing table belonged to Victoria. She was a flapper in the 1920’s and was the life of the party. She was killed in a car accident at 22. They found those little gold boxes of snuff powder on her.”
“The chest was brought here on a stage cross-country from Pennsylvania in 1870. It contained everything Mary’s family owned. Can you believe that? She became a seamstress and made custom dresses for all the richest women in town.”
“What’s with the horn on this record player?” Cammie asked.
Gertrude laughed. “It’s called a Victrola. It was Emily’s most prized possession. She took it all the way to California in 1910 when she tried to make it as a singer in Hollywood. She sang in movie theaters during silent pictures.”
“And oh, the bookcases. Aren’t they marvelous? Lillian was the librarian until 1950 when she died at 85. She kept her favorite books in that bookcase. She was considered the smartest women in town – like a walking encyclopedia. It was Lillian who started the golden book of Cole women.” Gertrude motioned to the giant book lying atop the bookcases.
Cammie brought the book to Gertrude. It was covered in shiny gold leaf and had the word “Cole” engraved on the top.
“In this book is one page for every woman in our family. Each generation had a record keeper who passed down the stories mother to daughter, aunt to niece. Lillian decided to write each story in the book to preserve them and handed the book to a special girl in the family to continue the line.” She handed the book to Cammie.
Each of the creamy pages had a woman’s name and year at the top and told the story of her life. And there were many blank pages for the future. Cammie looked at each page with wonder. These women were all chronicled in this book. How they lived, who they were and how they died.
“I’ve kept the record for the past 60 years, since my aunt gave it to me. It’s time for new blood.” Gertrude smiled and gently handed the book to Cammie.
“I can’t do this. I wouldn’t know what to write.” Cammie looked at her with big-eyed fear.
“Just listen and tell their stories. You can start with your grandmother and I.” She said.
For the rest of the trip, Gertrude told Cammie stories and showed her pictures of the Cole women. Cammie took notes to write the stories in the book later. Now she saw the women in the picture scrapbooks as people. Through the stories, she felt she knew them. They were family and now she could keep them alive until it was her time to bestow the book upon the next generation of Cole women.
© Copyright 2021, Suzanne Rudd Hamilton