From the Heart

She grew up for­ag­ing in the at­tic, gath­er­ing a life­time of mem­o­ries along the way.


Tucked-away treasures keep mem­o­ries close.

As a child, I adored go­ing through stuff up in my fam­ily’s at­tic. At the top of the at­tic steps, there was an old trunk that held my pop’s faded World War I uni­form. On top of Her­bert’s uni­form, shaped like a cloth ship, was his uni­form hat. Of­ten I’d lift the hat, in­spect its moth-eaten holes and gen­tly tuck it back in.

The trunk also held a piece of pa­per penned with a poem called A Sol­dier’s Prayer, which Pop car­ried into bat­tle. The prayer asks Je­sus to pro­tect the sol­dier from cap­ture and bod­ily harm. Grandma Laura wrote a note on the back of the pa­per that said: “Carry this in your gar­ments. Sew it in your cloth­ing. Study this prayer so you know it by heart. Should you lose it, you can write it down for your­self. Be not self­ish about this prayer; al­low other sol­diers to copy it, since it may also help them.”

The at­tic stored other items that fas­ci­nated me. I peeked into my sis­ters’ hope chests, boxes of good-luck items for their fu­ture marriages. Stored in th­ese chests were things my sis­ters had made, like em­broi­dered bureau scarves and pil­low­cases, as well as items they’d re­ceived, like dishes and

sil­ver­ware. (In those days, the church Sun­day school re­warded per­fect at­ten­dance with th­ese kinds of gifts.) Other boxes, packed with old pho­tos, dishes and clothes, were strewn be­neath the at­tic’s eaves. One box in par­tic­u­lar con­tained floral wa­ter­color paint­ings by my mother, Mary. Th­ese prints, amid stiff brushes and hard­ened paint, were stacked hap­haz­ardly, as if on hold. With the work of rais­ing 10 kids and be­ing mar­ried to a farmer, Mom’s artis­tic tal­ents were never truly re­al­ized. De­li­cious aro­mas also filled the at­tic. They wafted out from a small room where smoked ham and ba­con hung on a thick rope dur­ing the win­ter. My mother, when pre­par­ing a Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch meal of ham and beans, would bring a ham down to the kitchen and saw off a gen­er­ous and de­li­cious slice. I sup­pose all at­tics must have spooky ar­eas. Our fam­ily rarely used the space above the farm­house’s orig­i­nal struc­ture, and I never went near it. No amount of Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tion boxes could en­tice me to ven­ture that way. Nor would I, at the urg­ing of my dev­il­ish sis­ter Gla­dys, who loved ter­ri­fy­ing me, risk my life to en­ter the at­tic af­ter dusk. We be­lieved bats flew in through an open­ing near the chim­ney where there was a trap door lo­cated in the roof. Only once did I climb the lad­der to the trap door and poke my lit­tle head out. To­day, the smells of moth­balls and ham con­nect me to my at­tic trips. Teem­ing boxes and Army para­pher­na­lia bring me rever­ies as well. My mem­ory box is filled with treasures from the at­tic.

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