From my box of treasures

The plain box contains treasures, letters and notes from people that mattered to me through the years. A note from my childhood best friend, telling me she missed me like her right arm after I moved away. A priest friend’s thank you note for his ordination gift, a hand-embroidered stole. My godmother’s letter to me in 1976 when I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. Thank you notes and letters and little cards that told me I mattered to them, too.

One of those treasures was a letter in Spanish sent in 1976 by my first Spanish teacher. I started Spanish classes as a seventh grader. We sat in alphabetical order and were assigned Spanish names to use in class. There was another Ann in the class ahead of me and she became “Ana”; I became “Anita” and still answer to that. I wanted to be taking French with my best friend, but my dad insisted that more people in the world spoke Spanish and I was going to learn it. I ended up studying it for 10 years.

My school was changing to a new series of Spanish textbooks that hadn’t arrived at the time classes started. I didn’t know it then but learned later that, as a result, we had the best possible method for learning a language by using an audio/lingual approach. We had to pay attention, to listen carefully, because we had no books for the first six weeks. My teacher was George T. Riggs, who also taught Latin. He had “romantic silver hair” and looked old to me, but he was an engaging teacher and I learned bunches. He taught me for two years before I moved on to a teacher I can’t remember.

But I remembered Mr. Riggs. He instilled a love of the language and a confidence in using it that led me to not only continue classes but also to major in Spanish. I studied in Madrid my junior year in college and became a certified teacher after student-teaching Spanish to a bunch of middle Tennesse high school students who soon learned my accent.

As I prepared to graduate from college, I wrote to Mr. Riggs at my old junior high, thanking him for getting me started with the language I came to love. I didn’t know if he would remember me – it had been 10 years – but he wrote me back in a very nice letter, in Spanish, of course. My letter to him made him proud and happy for my success; his letter to me made me feel validated and accomplished. It was a treasure and it went into my box. Although my Spanish is rusty now – it’s been almost 50 years! – I can still read it easily, which also makes me happy. I have to keep it.

What’s in your treasure box?

Wrapping up StoryWorth

Last year after Christmas I gave myself a subscription to StoryWorth, which is a way to write up my memories by answering one question at a time throughout the year. At the end of the year, all of the answers are compiled into a bound book of collected stories and memories. I’ve been writing away all year, answering some of their questions and many that I made up myself, ending with 67 “chapters.” They cover topics from childhood to education to careers to family to travels and more, such as my Covid experience and where I was on 9/11. Today I looked over all the writings, made edits, and pushed the button to order my bound volume. After I see what it looks like, I will order a few more copies for family members who’ve said they’re interested in having one.

Why do it? So that when my memory begins to get fuzzy, I can remind myself of answers to questions that no one else around me can answer. And because I have lots of words and like to write. I highly recommend StoryWorth as a great gift for someone you love or just for yourself.

I’ve renewed my subscription for another year but this time the focus is on my year of healing from the spinal cord injury. I’ve been blogging about my progress here, but I want to pull them all into StoryWorth and continue writing as the year advances. My surgeon told me that it will take 8-12 months to see the full results of my surgery and to see what comes back from my conus swelling. The plan is that I can use this project to keep track of progress, challenges, emotions, and results – and end up with a bound volume that pulls it all together in a way that the blog simply can’t.

Escape from Rehab

I escaped for an hour today and hitched a ride down to the main building when I had a break from rehab. The nurses gave me permission so it wasn’t really an escape, but it felt like one. My girls were happy to see me and Ellie came running when she heard me instead of eyeing the wheelchair with suspicion. Emma of course was under the bed, but it didn’t take her long to come out. I gave them treats, cleaned out the litterbox, and brushed their furry little selves – and picked up a zillion cat toys that they’d gotten into and practically destroyed. Methinks more toys are in order. Then I could just throw out the nasty ones.

I didn’t skimp on rehab, though, and whisked back in good time for the afternoon OT session. PT was in the morning, and I walked to and most of the way back for 275 feet total. Between OT and PT, I did 30 “sit to stand” exercises from wheelchair to standing with the walker, which I’ll be doing a lot in real life, as well as bending practice. Other than that, it was the usual stuff. I’m doing much better at the standing leg exercises. The right foot still feels super heavy and it’s hard to lift it for marching (blech) or kicks, but I’m better than even last week.

I also did some Storyworth writing. At the end of my year of answering questions, they will send me a book of everything I’ve submitted, including photographs, which is pretty cool. Today I wrote about whether I had wanted to have children. I’ve been trying to get as many stories in as possible and this rehab time has messed up my schedule of trying to write one a week. Even so, I now have 56 stories that cover things from childhood homes to vacations to college years to work life and memories of my parents and grandparents. It’s been good to have a reason to think about some of these things. Remember, my reason to do this in the first place is to be a resource when my memory starts to fade. If you’re interested in reading any of my stories, let me know. Maybe it will spark something for you to do yourself, or to give to someone else as a gift. It’s definitely been worth it for me.

Image Credit: Photo 44651192 © Bowie15 |

StoryWorth: My Hometown

I grew up in Westfield, New Jersey, a leafy quiet suburb of New York City, with total population of around 30,000. It’s a wealthy suburb and I didn’t know for many years that my parents bought a house there specifically because of the reputation of the town’s school system. My parents met in college and had high academic expectations for their children. They moved to Westfield because we would get the best possible education there.

Mom and Dad bought an older ivy-covered house after my brother was born and we moved to 525 S. Chestnut Street from Colonia Village when I was three. The 3-bedroom stuccoed house was built in the late 1920’s and had a full attic and unfinished basement – and a root cellar with a dirt floor. There was a detached garage behind the house and a child’s playhouse in the backyard. The windows leaked air and sometimes water, and downstairs had lovely archways between rooms. We had a large screened in back porch that was fully shaded and where we spent lots of time in hot weather.

When I was going into junior high, we moved to a split-level ranch house at 602 St. Mark’s Avenue, a few blocks closer to town. It was closer to schools and town and was more modern, which my mom loved. It even had a built in vacuum system and an intercom! We lived there for four years before moving to Kentucky.

Westfield was a perfect place to grow up. It was beautiful, with wide tree-lined streets with sidewalks and well-kept homes. People were educated, traveled, and involved. Most of the mothers were stay-at-home moms and most of the fathers hopped the commuter train to New York every day. Grant Elementary School was only a few blocks away and we got lots of walking in since we came home for lunch every day, then back to school. I went to Roosevelt Junior High School, one of two in the town, and had one year at Westfield High School before we moved out of state.

It was a calm place. The towns around us experienced massive racial unrest in the 1960’s and I remember sitting on the steps of the high school, watching the National Guard move out in riot-prepped vehicles to deal with rioting in nearby Newark. But Westfield was quiet and we grew up sharing schools with kids of different races and religions. It wasn’t perfect, and it was heavily white, but there was no segregation that I was aware of.

We had all sorts of things to do: piano lessons for years, singing in choirs at the Big White Presbyterian Church, and Brownie, Girl Scout, and Cub Scout troops with Mom as leader or den mother. I took ballet classes at the YWCA, looking like a pink sausage in my leotard, and even ice skating lessons when an ice rink opened while I was in junior high. My athletic brother enjoyed Little League baseball and football, with my dad as coach, and worked on cars to enter in the Pinewood Derby every year. I even think I took horseback riding in there somewhere.

Every day after school, if we didn’t have something going on, we would just “go out and play” as long as we were home in time for dinner at 6pm. No play dates, no someone watching us every minute. We played games and learned how to work together and how to lose but still play. We had lots of homework and I don’t remember my parents helping with it; it was my job to get it done and I did. We walked or rode our bikes everywhere and didn’t need to rely on parents for rides to most places.

In the summers we would go to the shore at Manasquan, but I also spent a few years going to camp. It was not my favorite thing to do – I’m not a lover of outdoor sports and activities – but I went. After 6th grade, I went to Camp El-Ja-Bar which was a YWCA camp where we lived in little cabins and did all those things I didn’t like, mostly sports, because I was so bad at them. I was also horribly homesick. But the next two summers I had a chance to go to Choir Camp at Island Heights, a seaside NJ town. We spent a week each time learning and performing music and it was wonderful. We even watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon at camp. I don’t think I made a lot of friends there, but I did learn the Brahm’s German Requiem, which was a better deal for me.

I got my first paying job other than babysitting when we lived in Westfield, becoming a library page at age 15. I shelved books, retrieved magazines and materials from the basement for people doing research, and put plastic covers on new books to help them last longer. It was a great job where someone actually paid me to spend time in the library and got me started in what became my life’s work as a professional librarian.

I loved Westfield and cherish my memories of our life there.

Consider StoryWorth

Looking for a gift idea? Consider StoryWorth.

Cost: $99/year (or less when they have a sale)

I gave a subscription to myself for Christmas. Once a week I get an email with a question to answer. They have over 300 questions so if I don’t like that one, I can choose another. I write about the topic and email it back, along with a photo or two. At the end of a year, my answers will be printed in a bound book. It’s a great way to save family stories in an easy to read format.

I have no husband, partner, or children. I’ve moved around for jobs in different parts of the country; no one went with me so no one knows the stories of my life there. But some day someone might be interested – a niece or great-nephew. And even if no one is ever interested, I’m glad to have a chance to get my stories, my history, my memories down while I can remember them.

I like to write and I like to let my mind wander about topics that I haven’t considered in a long time, such as how I got my first job and what were my favorite classes in college. For my genealogy friends, this is similar to #52Ancestors in that you get a different topic to write about each week, but you can do whatever you want with that topic. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done so far and wish I’d known about this earlier and could have given it to my dad (with me doing the typing). It’s not too late for you, though. Think about it!