Another quick visit with my aunt and uncle this morning. My uncle's brother, who lives here, is quite ill, so they run up here every few weeks. Today they brought a couple of unexpected treasures. When Beve saw them, he said, "This is what happens when people begin emptying out their houses: they fill up others' homes." What they brought was a large bag of valentines given to my dad when he was his parents' only child, meaning, in the first half of the 1930s. They're pretty amazing valentines, for the most part, with moving parts, intricately drawn children, sappy verses, and even sappier things written to my dad when his name still ended in 'ie.' He was called 'sweetheart,' 'dearest one,' 'my darling,' which I believe my grandmother last called him when she was standing in front of his silk-lined casket. I know (well, I've pretty much always known) where the sweet sentiments written on all my birthday cards came from. Rather, I should say the ridiculously, even sickly, sweet sentiments.
However, there was one rather horrible valentine, right there in the middle. Shockingly horrible. It came from my dad's maternal grandmother (which is pretty shocking all by itself), had a drawing of a small african-american boy in patched dungarees on the front steps of a house that has a sign on the front door. "Boy wanted," the sign says. Inside are these words, "Ah's lookin' fo' someone to earn mah' lovin!!", spoken by a little girl with nappy hair.
Isn't it incredible? Can you even believe it? Yes, I suppose some of you can. Some of you remember what things used to be like when actors dressed up in black face, spoke in dialect, were called 'boy' or 'girl' even when they were older than the people they were talking to. I really hate thinking about such things. I hate that it used to be okay to mock language and color and poverty. And I really hate knowing that my grandparents were as biased as anyone you'd ever meet. Oh sure, they loved their own children, their own kin. But anyone else--of a different ethnic origin, religion, race, or those of different economic or educational background--were seen as 'less;...just like this old, terrible valentine reveals.
On the upside, my aunt also brought an old wooden baseball bat with my dad's name carved into the handle. His name after he lost the '-ie' ending. His name as I remember it. That bat must have spent the bulk of its life at the acreage on Whidbey, where fly balls could sail across the meadow and land in the blackberry bushes. My aunts say my dad taught them to hit and field and pitch, that he made sure they had good form, rather than throwing like 'girls.' Come to think of it, that's pretty derogatory, too, isn't it? I mean, what's wrong with throwing like a girl if...for pity's sake, if you happen to actually be a girl.
In the last several years, we've become the depository for Beve's dad and all kinds of World War II photos of him in burma, newspaper articles of his athletic exploits (both in the army and afterwards at U of O), and so much more cr--er, stuff, we've yet to go through it. We have my photo albums from my dad's earliest years, and now, boxes full of photographs of my mother and family. I'm telling you--Beve would certainly tell you--we're being overrun by all this memorabilia.
But here's the thing: I like history. I like thinking of my dad as a little tyke with an 'ie' at the end of his short name. I like holding that bat and knowing he not only held it, but carved his grown-up name in it, probably before anyone was calling him by that grown-up name. I like how the past grounds me, how it gives my life heft, if that makes sense. I come from some place, from some people.
I have a spiritual history as well. We all do. Those people who bore us in the faith, who fed us milk and raised us. These people--SA and KB, CR and so many more--they give my spiritual life heft. Weight, significance, importance. We are not our own, we belong to a family. The church, yes, but also a smaller family of believers who believed in us when we were not old enough to believe for ourselves, and believe for us now when we can't quite believe at some moments now. We're connected to these people, in our past, and in our present. And that's a very, very good thing.