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Sorting memories

March 28, 2012
By Jerry Nelson , Marshall Independent

We recently received the sad news that my wife's uncle Veral had passed away.

Veral was a bachelor farmer who spent most of his 76 years on the farm my wife's grandparents purchased in 1939. During Veral's funeral service, the minister mentioned the Bible story regarding how a grain of wheat must fall into the earth before it can bear fruit. I think this farm-related allusion would have pleased Veral greatly.

The sermon was unique for me due to the minister's extremely southern accent. I mean way south, as in the Southern Hemisphere.

I chatted with the pastor after the service and told him I hadn't realized that there was such a thing as Australian Lutherans. He assured me that they exist, albeit as a distinct minority.

My mouth ran ahead of my brain and I inquired if he knew Mel Gibson. He smiled good-naturedly and said no. He was soon drawing a map of Australia on a napkin to illustrate where his boyhood farm home near Adelaide was located and telling us how his German ancestors had emigrated to Terra Australis in the 1840s.

We finished our little chat and parted amicably. The Aussie padre was a nice fellow and I told my wife that I regretted not asking if he knew Nicole Kidman. She replied that pestering a clergyman in such a manner would likely erode my already-slim chances of salvation.

A few days after saying our final goodbyes to Veral, my wife and I went out to his farm to help her aunt Doris and uncle Jim prepare for Veral's auction. This quickly proved to be a task roughly akin to digging the Panama Canal with a spork.

Veral was a saver. I can see squirreling away a few paper grocery bags, but not 500. Seed corn caps are free, so why should a guy need to stash dozens and dozens of them?

One man's trash. And my wife and I agreed that if we were both suddenly swept off to the sweet by and by, the folks who had to go through our things would likely wonder, "Why on earth did they keep all this junk?"

It's somewhat voyeuristic to sort through another person's personal property and triage it into auction, Goodwill or dumpster. This process was greatly hindered by my interest in history and delight for discovery.

We found photos of my wife's great-grandparents, her grandparents, her parents, my wife as a child, and our two boys. We couldn't even count the copious old photos of various aunts, uncles, cousins and so on.

Veral worked in the electronic communications field when he served in the Army in the late 1950s. Which was probably a good thing; I cannot imagine kindhearted Veral using any sort of kinetic weapon.

Veral brought his passion for electronics back with him to the farm. Down in his basement workshop there was a plethora of electronic repair equipment, including a portable vacuum tube tester and two vacuum tube repairman cases. Opening those cases rocketed me back to my childhood, when the TV repairmen made house calls and performed open-chassis surgery in the middle of the living room.

Heaps of glossy periodicals were found throughout the house, many of them Popular Mechanics magazines. I mined one particular vein of magazines and found some Popular Mechanics that dated as far back as 1951! They had such headlines as "I Rode The First Jetliner" and "Can Rockets Take Us Into Space?" and "Build Your Own Flying Car In Your Driveway!"

That last one actually sounds pretty awesome. I wonder if those plans are still available? Anyhow, it was enough to make me consider starting my own magazine collection, although I lack the patience to age them for six decades.

Running across such things caused me to pause from my mission for long intervals as I examined each artifact. I couldn't bring myself to toss out the oldest magazines, so I boxed them up in the hopes that they find new owners at the auction.

My wife discovered a drawer full of newspaper clippings that her grandmother Ida had saved. Most of them contained such juicy tidbits as "Mrs. William Jacobson and her daughter Melinda were Sunday afternoon callers at the Pete and Amanda Riley residence."

Some of these clippings dated back half a century. Many had also been chewed upon by mice. Ick! Into the dumpster!

This project has already consumed more time and energy than anybody had ever imagined, but I'm sure it will all eventually get sorted out. And in his own way, Veral gave us one final gift: the opportunity to discover innumerable facets of my wife's family history.

 
 

 

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