The Past Returns
“There used to be a chandelier hanging in here,” my sister said as we entered the dining room of the old house.
“I remember that,” I said. “I wonder why Granddad took it down.”
“Probably because Grandma spent so much time polishing all the little crystal teardrops, he never wanted to see it again after she died.”
“It might be in the barn,” I said. “You know Granddad. He never got rid of anything.”
Granddad wasn’t exactly a pack rat, but he’d hung onto a lot of things, and the contents of the barn were like the story of his life. In the most prominent place, dead centre, was the 1925 Ford roadster, the first car he’d ever bought and the one he’d loved the most. It was as simple as a tractor, he’d said, and it had been built to last. He had driven it for twenty years, but always said no new car could hold a candle to that Ford.
Granddad lived to be 103, and we could mark the decades by the things he’d saved. There was a collection of little tin soldiers from his boyhood, dating back to the Boer War. His collection of The Boy Aviators series written by Captain Wilbur Lawton between 1910 and 1915 were first editions and probably worth quite a bit.
In the 1920s Granddad had worked at the old Toronto Stock Exchange and had kept his pay slips—he was making $21 a week, more than enough for a young bachelor to live on.
During the 1930s he had been raising a young family, our father and our two aunts. It had been the Depression so things were not easy. He’d kept the kids’ tricycle—they had shared one and we had heard all the stories about that hardship!
Then came the forties, wartime and ration books, and newspapers with all the important headlines. The fifties were easier and there were the “modern” household appliances, the Sunbeam mixmaster Grandma had used for decades, and a Sylvania television set. The sixties on through to the nineties produced a collection of 45s, LPs, 8-tracks and audiotapes, VHS and Beta tapes—Granddad had covered them all.
“Val,” my sister said when we’d arrived at the 21st Century. “Come see this.” She was standing beside stacks of banker’s boxes that were labelled by decade. “He saved all of his tax returns!”
As we leafed through the first box, we were both astonished by what we saw. Granddad had accumulated over a million dollars during the 1920s when he’d worked at the Stock Exchange. The last return in the box was for 1929, the year the stock market crashed. Granddad listed his earnings as $1,092. He had made and lost a million dollars before he was twenty-five. And he had not mentioned it once during the remaining seventy-eight years of his life.
We found the chandelier all wrapped up in a sheet and carefully placed in an old steamer trunk. There wasn’t a speck of dust on it.