Normally, I use blogging to post upcoming book fair events or to explain events through pictures, but the virus has smashed being able to talk about my mysteries to people one on one. I may have to wait until next year. One writer suggested I blog what I have been doing.
Wills! Yes, I’m reading old wills because in them I find people at a most intimate, remember-I-loved-you-moment. Wills from past generations have a charming simplicity. One will from a great-great named that his wife should be allowed to keep their bed. So many questions come from this and sadness too. If he hadn’t willed her the bed, would it have been taken away? Is the implication that her son will be responsible for her care since now she at least has a bed? Didn’t Shakespeare will their second-best bed to his wife? Was that out of consideration for her or a slam?
In another will, a father gives his worldly goods to his wife for her to distribute to their children as she sees fit, but to his oldest son, he specifically named his good iron shovel. This brought tears. I can see a dad wanting to provide for his son. The shovel has meaning: strength, work ethic—the timelessness of a son carrying on Dad’s work.
Most of my great-greats were people of strict faith. Pictures show stern-faced farmers, coal miners, railroad workers. One of the grandfathers gave all of his farmland to his oldest son with instructions for him to take care of his mother. To the second oldest son, he gave all the stills. Stills! My family had stills? This one line of the will softens my perception of the grave faces who, on occasion, may have had a party. Or was there another purpose for alcohol other than moon shine? Looks like I have another research project.
Wills show people who want to care for family and remind them that they were loved. “Besides my love for you this is what I have to give.”
I keep a set of steak knives from my grandmother. They are still in their packaging. I’ve never used them because over time they would wear out. I don’t think my grandmother ever had steak; therefore, no need for her to take them out of the wrapper. Someone probably gave them to her as a gift. She left them to me just as her grandmother left a celery dish to her. Both grandmothers wished a bright future for their granddaughters. One where steak is possible and serving celery could have its own dish.
Wills may list things to pass on, but also they are the last direct expression of love and hope.
Thank you Tim Foster for the use of this photo