"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
if I should die before I wake,
throw my journals in the lake."
(courtesy of bobbie)
I don't know if my grandfather's bachelor brother kept journals. I do know he kept stuff, and as a young girl, I was fascinated with his stuff. I wondered what kind of things an old man might keep. The plane in the photos was one of the items he kept. It was always poked into the "plate" of the house, in plain view, but inaccessible to me. (The roof of the porch had open rafters and so there was space on the cross beam, a ledge, of sorts, to stick things. That is the best I can do to explain the "plate" of the house.)
Anyway, I would often ask my uncle if I could see the plane and he would take it down from its perch and hold it for me to look at it. I never got to hold it. My uncle was a school bus driver and one of the kids had made the plane and given it to him.
My uncle was a private person, and about the only one who knew any of his business was his old maid sister, who lived with him in the home they grew up in. There was a family story that he had visited the local fortune teller because he had lost something. The other grown-ups surmised that he had buried some money and had forgotten where he had buried it.
He had an old trunk in his bedroom that captured my eye. His bedroom was off limits and so I always stretched my eyeballs to see what I could see through the open door. I saw the trunk in his bedroom and I knew there had to be all sorts of treasures be hidden away in there.
But you see, Bobbie's little prayer brings up that third group of people I mentioned when I wrote about what people do with their journals. People like me want to donate ours to science, others want their family members to have them. People like my uncle want their journals, their stuff, to be "thrown in the lake", or planted with them when they go, or burned.
My rascally uncle fell into that category, and his sister burned the contents of his trunk when he was gone. She enlisted the help of my grandmother and they unceremoniously burned a lifetime of memories. I know they did not dig too deeply but my grandmother said there were letters (from women who were in love with him!) and receipts and post cards in the trunk. Believe me, my grandmother, the sister-in-law, would have thoroughly studied every scrap of paper, but the sister was fiercely protective of her brother's privacy. I probably would have too. It is not that I would have been digging for dirt. It is that I would have longed to see the things that were important enough to him to hang onto for so many years, and maybe to have had something to hold up to future generations and say "this was your Uncle Robert", here are the things he treasured. It would have been a way of keeping his memory alive.
I fussed at my grandmother about burning the trunk, about not putting my aunt off till my mother could have gotten there and maybe reasoned with her about the whole thing. Thinking back, I don't think he ever actually asked her to burn the trunk, I think she just got the idea that that would be what he wanted done. I think she acted hastily in her grief and may have regretted burning everything after all was said and done.
And yes, I know, if that was his wish, it was right that it be honored. After all, I know I'd probably come back and haunt somebody if they kept my journals and did not do with them what I asked!
But I got the plane, and I have pleasant memories of him. I think my uncle would be pleased that I have the airplane. Thanks, Uncle Robert, but pleased or displeased, if I would have been there, I would have at least taken a peek into your papers. And I bet I could have charmed my aunt and my grandmother into letting me take care of your stuff. And who knows, I might have taken the liberty of plastering some of it all over the internet.