It once was lost, but now it’s found…

As my sister and I were working on our family home last year, preparing it for the estate sale, we were, naturally, overwhelmed by all of the ‘stuff’ in the house.  Stuff that needed sorting; stuff that needed to be thrown away; and stuff that needed to be saved.

The more we worked, the more we realized that the “saved” pile needed to be the smallest.  There was just no way either of could take everything; and frankly, neither of us really wanted everything.  So we had to pick the items that we REALLY wanted the most, and leave the rest behind for the sale.

As time wore on, we knew what we wanted.  We marked those items off and set them aside.  Beth took a few smaller items, and I took a table that was my Grandma’s that I really liked a lot, along with a number of smaller mementos and a few handy kitchen items.  It seemed pretty easy at the time, but in reality, it was quite overwhelming. And even during that time and long afterward, I kept wondering if there was something else I was missing.

When the sale came around October, I knew it was too late– I had to accept that whatever I took was what I got– everything else had to go to the sale.  And truly, that was the most important thing about it: every penny we sold went to Mom so she could pay for her assisted living care.  So whatever we could contribute to further that cause was the best for everyone.

After the sale, however, and after the sale of the house, I finally realized there was one item I wished I had kept: My Dad’s budding box.

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Roses by the house, 1974

Dad was an avid rosarian.  At one point we had over 250 rose bushes in our backyard, and that was largely due to his skill at budding and grafting rose bushes. Each summer, he budded close to 30 roses from bushes he either already had or that his friends had in their yards.  I’d watch him as he’d carefully perform the steps of budding new roses, and eventually he taught me how to do it.  It was one of those things that he and I enjoyed doing together– something we shared.

So this box meant a lot to me. But as far as I knew, it was long gone.

Until today.

My Aunt Rita held her annual family and friends picnic at Simmons Island earlier in the day, and we had just finished everything up.  I had my camera with me, so I decided to take some pictures around downtown Kenosha before heading back to Chicago.  I’d walked around for about an hour and was getting warm so I got back into the car for a drive around.  I was getting ready to “scoop the loop” down 6th avenue, when I suddenly turned onto 56th Street.  I saw the old Leader Store, where we used to buy our school, Cub Scout and Girl Scout uniforms when we were kids, and something caught my eye.  I hit the brakes and quickly did a u-turn and parked.  I couldn’t believe it… but it was my dad’s budding box, in the window, with his name clearly showing.  It was marked with a price tag: $20.

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Dad’s budding box in the window of the former Leader Store in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Dad built this box in the early 1970s, along with a few others for some of his rosarian friends. I believe he got the idea from another friend, or an article in The American Rose magazine; but in any case, he built it himself, painted it, and even painted the rose and his name in a distinctive script.  He used the box to carry all of his budding tools and supplies, so he could quickly set up shop when he was ready to work.  And use it, he did.  A lot.

It’s one of the last remaining items that showcases his art talents.  Many of them were lost or destroyed over the years, including a beautiful set of budding instruction charts that were wrecked when our basement flooded a couple years ago.  It truly is a one-of-a-kind, priceless item that we really cherish.  So to have it back would mean so very much.

There were no phone numbers in the window, indicating who to call if one had a question about one of the items.  The store was empty, so clearly someone was using the window space just to display these items.  I snapped a picture of the box in the window and sent it to my sister.  And then I posted it to a group on Facebook called “You Know You’re From Kenosha If…,” where current and former residents of Kenosha reminisce about things, places, and people they grew up with and remember fondly while living in Kenosha.  There have been some great, lively discussions and a lot of really great history shared in this group, so I figured it was the best way to find out some information about where the box was displayed.

Almost immediately, I started getting comments with ideas of who to contact, as well as a lot of support and wishes for me to get this box back.  By the time I got back to Chicago, the woman who placed the item in the window had sent me a private message on Facebook with her number saying to call her back about the box.

I called her once I got settled, and told her the story behind the box, and how I discovered it in the window.  She barely could recall how she even got the box, but she knew she liked it and thought it was interesting — and she wondered why nobody was interested in it or wanted it.  So in the end, she graciously offered it back to us, no charge.  I was moved by her generosity– even though it’s ours in heart and in history, it’s technically hers right now.  But I’ve discovered with people who deal in antiques or collectibles– it’s not so much about what you make on an item: it’s more about how the story is told, and what it means to someone.

Beth will pick it up later this week.  I’m excited to have it back in our family again.

A really nice example of the power of the internet, and specifically, the positive power of social media.  When good people are involved, it can do pretty awesome things.

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I’d like to add a plug for Janet Steinmetz at Black Sheep Mercantile.  Janet is the wonderful lady who has the box and offered to return it.  If you’re in Kenosha, please stop by and visit her store at 6227 22nd Avenue.

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Five Years

Five years have passed by so very quickly. And yet, every July 3, I recall that day, vividly.

I recall the surreal, foggy morning in Saugatuck.  I was camping with my friends, and decided to call my dad for the first time that weekend.  The calls went unanswered.  I recall seeing “The Devil Wears Prada” with my friends because it had rained that morning, and not being able to enjoy the movie because I kept checking my phone to see if he had called me back.  And then, after the movie, getting the news that tore through my heart.

The ride back to camp, and arriving to find my tent taken down and my car already packed.  I will never, ever forget the kindness and love from my friends as they worked so hard to get me out of there as fast as possible.

Getting my friend Rafael to drive my car so I didn’t have to drive it myself was another blessing.  I don’t remember much of anything from that trip.  I just wanted to get home.

Sitting in my mom’s kitchen that night, hearing fireworks going off in the distance.  The low thuds of each explosion marking the celebration of the holiday that was, on that day, dead to me.  What was there to celebrate?  I was mourning. Independence Day would never be the same for me, and hasn’t since.

The planning, meetings, dinners brought by from friends and family.  Lots of decisions, and lots and lots of tears.  That was all part of it, too.

As rough as that day and the days that followed were, it somehow made our family that much stronger.  We never broke under the pressure and kept on going.

There was immense sadness, but also immense relief.  Dad had suffered for so long, and by the end of his life was so miserable, that he made us miserable, too.  I guess what kept us going (and sane) through all of that was knowing that he was finally at peace.  And consequently, we, too, were at peace.

I wrote about all of this five years ago, so I don’t want to re-hash every detail… but in the five years that have passed, so much has happened.  My nieces were born, and have given such joy to our lives.  How I wish he could have met and known Abby and Emily.  Part of me believes he does know them, and is watching over them closely; but had he been alive to meet them I know he would have loved them dearly.

But on the other end of the spectrum, my uncle– my dad’s brother– is nearing the end of his battle with cancer.  Unlike dad, his suffering is lingering.  I hate what’s happening to him, and how cancer has robbed him of not only his ability to live his life, but his will to live.  Once again, when the time comes, we will have sorrow, but also thankful he is no longer suffering.

So this year I am spending the holiday with my family.  I’m sure we’ll share some tears, but many more happy times.  And we will celebrate Independence Day.  Because although I thought it was dead to me five years ago, eventually, I have to move on.

Dad, wherever you are– I love you.  You’ll always be in my heart.

Just Say NO!

Just Say No

I’m just a boy who can’t say no.

OK, stop looking at me like that.  I don’t mean it that way.  Really, I don’t.

What I mean is, if someone says they need help with something, or asks for assistance, I have a hard time saying “No, I really can’t commit to that right now.”

I’m the type of person who likes being involved in things, and get to the heart of how things work.  I’m not one of those people who sits idly by and lets other people do everything.  I dig in, hands-first, and help out.

That’s an admirable trait, isn’t it?  Sure.  But it has to have its limits.  I can’t allow myself to get so over-extended that I have no time to do things that I really enjoy.  I have enough trouble over-extending myself financially.  I can’t afford to do the same with my time.

Problem is, I really do love being involved in things– especially things that matter to me and to the community as a whole.  The sad– some would say crazy– thing about all that is, I wish I could do more.

I don’t do these things for glory or for kudos– although that’s nice, if you get it.  I do them because I can’t help but think that if I don’t do them, I’m not sure who will.  The important thing is to not let myself get burned out– or for that matter, burned.  Because if that happens, you can be sure I won’t lend my hand anymore.

In the meantime, I enjoy keeping myself busy and my plate full.  But I’m looking very much forward to an emptier plate.  Just so I can fill it up with something else, I’m sure.

Abby and Emily at Christmas

Abby, originally uploaded by RcktManIL.

Emily, originally uploaded by RcktManIL.

I got my new camera just in time for Christmas, and I was so excited to use it to take new pictures of the girls. Needless to say, I was not disappointed with the results. The Kodak camera I got shortly after the break-in was okay, but it just could not deliver the results I liked so much from the DSLR. The new camera, a Canon Digital Rebel XSI, is a step up and a newer model than the camera that was stolen. Plus I got two lenses and a whole bunch of extras. Basically all the stuff that was stolen was replaced, save for just one of the lenses… at a fraction of the amount I paid for it all initially. Merry Christmas to me, for sure!!!