A Shoebox

A Shoebox

Jean meets me half way down the hall.

“Oh you came up?”  She seemed surprised.

“Yeah”, I replied. “The…” Jean interrupted.

“You know we’ve had a lot of weirdos come up here lately.  I had a gentleman come in the other day and he was very upset at me.”

“Oh yeah.  Why?”

“Well,” she replied.  I could hear her English accent get a little thicker as we continued talking.  “ He wanted to do research whenever he wanted.  I told him the hours I am here and that he has to visit when I am here.  He started to get very upset.  I had to call downstairs and have him removed.”

She paused. “You know it was quite scary.  I was all by myself and this man was getting very upset.”  She looked at me above her purple glasses as we kept walking.  “He is no longer allowed in the library.”

“Wow,” I fumbled.” Do you, uh, get that a lot?”  Despite my lack of eloquence, I could picture people becoming obsessed with a topic.  Sometimes I wonder if I will be that obsessed individual.  Cracked up with all my eggs in the TBD basket, I’ll fly through the halls accurately depicting the 850 horsepower Pratt and Whitney engine in the Douglas TBD Devastators.  Jean would walk by and, when I was getting to be too much, she would say,” Now Ryan go land your TBD.”  I would bank off to the right and crash into the chairs sprawled out on the shiny, tile floor.  Just sitting there, waiting for my next flight…

“Not really,” said Jean.

She walked me to my spot on an old, lacquered dining room table.  I was surrounded by books, census records and military dispatches.  I sat down to my tower of sources.

“I found two new magazines here about the TBD.  Here’s a book on the Coastal Watchers.”

“Great. Thanks,” I replied as she walked back towards her desk.  Another librarian was here today and she was very disgruntled by the state of the book covers.

“That George,” Jean said trying to console her friend’s misplaced rage.  “He’s a schizophrenic.” She walked back toward me with a stack of paper. “Here’s what I found on that Ewoldt guy,” Jean said towards me.  “I looked through all the genealogical records and was able to make a family tree.  Here are some military records and pictures.”  She handed me a stack of about 50 pages.  There were handwritten notes and screen shots of her discoveries.

“How did you find all these?” I asked.

“In the genealogical records,” she replied.  Her tone suggested that she had already said this and I was being naïve.  “If I have a date and a name, I can usually find most anything. I can…”

“Is this part of your job?” I blurted out interrupting her explanation.  Slowly sinking into this large leather chair, I leaned forward thinking if I got closer maybe I could understand her better.  Why is she willing to do all this work and research for free?  I’ve offered her money but she did not take it.

“I love the challenge.  I love looking into people’s lives and finding things. I guess that makes me nosy.”  She paused with a hoot.” Aahh I don’t care about that.  It’s interesting to me.  I love to find the shoebox.”

“The shoebox?” I repeated.

“Every family has a shoebox.  It has all the letters, pictures and primary sources from the family.  Find the shoebox and you find your story.  I was working with one author and we started with the main character of the book.  Then to his wife, then after finding his wife’s maiden name, a brother, then a cousin, then another brother, but no one was calling us back.” Jean made eye contact using this time to catch her breath as a dramatic pause. “Then one of the brothers called back.  They talked on the phone and, at first, he was a little reluctant to the author’s pitch.  It took some time but he loosened up.  Then he offered to send him all the letters and pictures he had of the family..”  Jean paused again and raised her fists in jubilation.

“We found the shoebox.  All he had to do now was write his book.  Every family has a shoebox and I love finding it.”

She finished the story looking back at me.  Her faraway look, her flashback to the shoebox, was a genuine display of pure joy.  I couldn’t help but smile back, inspired by her shoebox discovery.  It was contagious.



Note: The picture for this post was taken from the following website.  We are still on the hunt for ours.



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