The phone rang. Nancy was still at work, I told the caller. She explained that she was calling from the rest home where Nancy’s aunt Edie had lived her final years and she needed to know where to send her personal possessions. With no one at home , I told her it would be fine to send them here and we would take care of them. She thanked me and rung off.
Not thinking too much about it I let it slip my mind until two weeks later a small box about the size of your kitchen toaster arrived on our doorstep. Seeing by the address it was the promised package, I set it aside for Nancy to open.
Aunt Edith Green, or aunt Edie as she was called was the sister of Nancy’s grandmother, Hilda. She was one of those semi-obscure maiden aunt’s that used to populate families, particularly in the decades after WWII. I had my own aunt Iva Jean Fee, my aunt Anna and my Uncle Jack Shannon, all of whom never married. I’ve always thought that in small towns, if you don’t marry young, the pickings are slim to none as you grow older. Spinsterhood becomes a habit, not by choice, but by lack of opportunity.
After our little boys were snug in their beds we sat down at the kitchen table and slit the tape holding the box closed and looked inside to see what might be the accumulation of a long life. Sorting through the box we found some old costume jewelry, a hand tatted lace handkerchief and at the bottom a pack of old and yellowed letters and post cards bound up carefully with a narrow maroon ribbon tied in a neat bow.
Today, no one writes personal letters and written communications has devolved to emoticons, tweets, less than 140 characters if you please, and the occasional e-mail. Phone calls are quick but are lost to history upon “hanging up,” a phrase itself soon to disappear from our lexicon. So why would a person who was 97 years old, keep letters in a small box and carry them from London, where she was born, to Vancouver Canada in 1919 and finally to Santa Monica where she spent the rest of her life.
“Luck that takes the form of finding valuable or precious things that are not looked for.” That definition of serendipity perhaps explains how aunt Edie’s precious letters ended up with me. Of course, they had to be given to Nancy’s mother as the closest living relative. Anne was momentarily interested in them but soon confined them to a remote and seldom opened drawer where they were to reside for another 25 years.
Those letters are a treasure which has been the key to unlocking one of the many threads that make up the generational stories that bind a family’s history together. What about this and how about that; and why? For the letters, so carefully preserved were written by Edith’s younger brother Edgar who served with the Australian Imperial Forces or AIF in WWI. His Battalion, the 4th of the 15th Regiment fought throughout the Dardanelles campaign, or Gallipoli as it is more commonly know in the United States.
In the penultimate scene, the movie Gallipoli portrays the horrific battle of the Nek fought against the Turks on the Gallipoli peninsula. The Australian and New Zealand troops, in attempting to close on the turkish trenches are sent forward into withering machine-gun fire and are slaughtered. The letters from Edgar connect us with this singular event as he was there and wrote of it to his sister.
The letters and post cards connect us to Edgar and that family. They chronicle events. from his enlistment in 1915 until the end of the war. This little event, the opening of a postal parcel has opened a window on the life of our entire family. Things unthought of, things unseen and an opportunity to look back on events in our family lost for a more than a century.