Every family has its stories, that get forgotten if you do not tell them. Our family stories are wound up in the furniture which we save from one generation to the next, and which I refinish on a regular basis. There are only two family members left; these stories will soon be forgotten.
To prevent that from happening, I am telling you some of the stories that belong in my family. I seem to be the curator of our family artifacts, and so I am writing their stories.
Tell your stories: The “Poison Chest”
I got this story second-hand so it might not be absolutely correct, but here goes: My aunt Moy (grand-daughter of Alexander Caulfield Anderson) owned this chest. As she aged, she feared dying, and so she obtained some strychnine and hid it inside this box. Her health failed suddenly before she was able to use it, and from her hospital bed she begged my mother to bring her the bottle she would find in this box.
Curious, my mother looked inside the box and discovered the poison. Horrified, she delivered it to a pharmacist who told her my aunt would have died in horrible pain had she taken the dose — I think he said she would be doing convulsive “hoops” around the room.
My aunt did die, not in horrible pain but in uncomfortable circumstances nevertheless. My mother inherited the chest, and in the forty or more years since my aunt died this box has been known as “the poison chest.” But the story will be forgotten when I fall off my perch, and so now is a good time to tell it to you.
The lesson: Tell your family stories, or they will disappear. It doesn’t matter how important or unimportant the stories are — they are your stories. It is even possible that this is a family artifact — that it might have been built by my grandfather’s older brother Walter, who built boxes. But we don’t know. The all-important “provenance” has been lost. That, too, is why you want to tell your stories.
Tell your stories: The Cedar Chest
Everyone has a Cedar Chest, fancy or plain. This one is very plain, but it has a fascinating story about someone else’s family — not ours. In 1938 my mother lived in Winnipeg, where she dated a young man named Reid McVicar. She must have liked him, because she remembered his name all these years.
Reid McVicar built my mother this cedar chest. Then he went off to war– not to fight the second world war, but the war in Spain between the “Communists” and the “Fascists,”according to my mother. And he died there, in Spain. On occasion I search on Ancestry.ca for his family and I never find him listed. But they might stumble on this post, and know that he and my mother dated, in Winnipeg, before the Second World War, and that he built her this cedar chest.
This has been in my family forever, as far as I am concerned. My mother owned it ten years before I was born, and so she brought it from Winnipeg to Vancouver, where she met and married my father. After that it traveled up to Cortes Island where I was born and where I grew up. I still have this chest, and because I asked my mother its history, I know a little bit of Reid McVicar’s story too. So, tell your stories — sometimes you are also telling someone’s else’s story.
Tell your stories: Walter Birnie Anderson’s Carved Boxes
This is why you tell your stories! We uncovered this story by accident — my sister had the box shown above, which she inherited from our Aunt. This box was part of our childhood, as Moy had always used it as her cigarette box. However, we had no idea where it came from. It was just a box, with a nice little carving on the lid.
Then our long distant cousin came up to visit us in Victoria, and he hauled out a little box much like this one, that had been carved by his ancestor, Walter Birnie Anderson, son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson.
I recognized his box immediately, and I searched for and found my sister’s box and brought it to him. We both knew then that it was Walter Birnie’s carved box, and with my sister’s permission it traveled home to Seattle with Walter’s descendant.
That last story was an amazing experience which still astonishes me today. So here is the lesson: Tell your stories. Write them down. They may not seem important to you at the time, but stories are important to family history. Stories tie you to your family’s past, and keep you attached to them.
Copyright Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2013/2014. All rights reserved.
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