Monday, May 28, 2012

Such Small Things

I have told the story of Great Uncle Lawrence in a series of posts composed in November, 2009. 
My Mother, born nearly a year after his death in The Second Battle of The Marne, grew up feeling almost as though she had known him. Although my grandmother, a gifted pianist, put away the music and songs of WWI and refused to play them ever again, it would seem that Lawrence was often spoken of--both with grief for his loss and with warm remembrance.

A large sepia tinted original of the above photo hung in the parlor of my grandparent's home when I was growing up.  It is only in recent years that I have seen photos of Lawrence as a boy and as a young man.
Through the archived editions of the Ticonderoga [New York] Sentinel, I've read the news notes of the neighborhood where he lived, building a many-layered picture of his activities with family and friends.
From his wartime letters I know that he cherished and carried with him the mail that he received.from home.
Those letters weren't found when we cleared my grandfather's house prior to its sale---perhaps they were not included when Lawrence's belongings were returned to his family after his death.

I believed I had gleaned all the information about Uncle Lawrence that could be found during the long Wyoming winter when I transcribed his letters.  My cousin and I scanned old photos and newspaper clippings. My nephew shared a dark and fuzzy photo of Lawrence and his fiancee.
Then, one Sunday afternoon  late in this past winter, my son-in-law, M. phoned and with no preamble demanded, "Who was L.H. Ross?"
After a split-second of mental staggering I replied, "That would be my great uncle, Lawrence Henry Ross, who was killed in France in World War I. Why do you ask?"
It seemed that daughter Gina was spending the gloomy day in one of her 'organizing' projects, sorting items in various trunks and boxes.
Opening a small metal trunk, she had discovered a wallet of soft worn leather.
"There's a hunting license in the wallet, dated 1908," explained Matt. "We thought you might want it."
He passed the phone to G. who continued the saga of discovery.
"Don't you remember," she queried, "When we helped Grandma clear out the farmhouse when she sold it--she gave me a little metal trunk, like a small locker.  This must have been in it all these years."

When the old folding wallet was delivered, I handled it carefully, with a sort of awe that it had come to light these many years later and so far from its original owner's home.
In addition to the hunting license issued more than a century ago when Lawrence was 19 [so strange to think!] there were several folded receipts; one dated 1913 documented a registered letter sent by Lawrence to someone in Syracuse, NY.
A leader and sinker for a fishing line; two ticket stubs which may have been for a theater production. An advertisement for fencing printed on the back of a facsimile Confederate bill; a broken bit of red feather and a small embossed card that might have been part of a Valentine.
A folded scrap of paper bore Lawrence's signature--familiar to me from the hours spent transcribing his letters--his name written below in another hand.
There was nothing in the wallet to suggest that he might have carried it with him to Camp Devens and later across the heaving Atlantic to the battle-front in France.
Perhaps the wallet was a possesssion of his young manhood, already set aside when he was drafted into the Army, one of many oddments to be sorted by his family in the weeks after his death, something of little value, but kept--too precious to be discarded--because it had been his.
I often  ponder how different our family might have been if Lawrence had survived the war to return home, marry his fiancee and raise a family.
I picture him in that square old farmhouse parlor with its dark patterned carpet and the windows that looked out to the maple-shaded lawns.  I see him with his fiddle tucked against his chin, the rich notes of familiar songs and old hymns springing from under his bow.
It would have been my Mother at the old upright piano--the same piano which had graced his boyhood home, which had been played by his sisters.
I imagine him as one of the group of cousins who gathered there of a Sunday afternoon when I was a small child.  One more hymn was always sung before the visiting relatives reluctantly gathered coats and belongings and the goodbyes were said.  I fancy Lawrence lowering the violin so that he could sing on the chorus, his clear Ross tenor effortlessly finding the harmony.
I wish he had come home.


  1. This is so beautifully written. Deb

  2. I can only agree with Deb. I enjoyed reading every word.

  3. ehentch oftlcei wish he had come home...

    a sentiment echoed all over the world, for young men taken by the horrors of war.

    a lovely post Sharon- your sense of 'family' is strong, and i am glad this small wallet has returned to you,

    leanne x

  4. I am nearly as familiar with some branches of your family tree as I my own (though FH has been abandoned this past couple of years, due to problems within my own family).

    It is wonderful that you write of Lawrence and remember him - although obviously you never met. I feel the same about my husband's grandfather and great-uncle, killed in WW1, and whose portraits are hanging in our hallway. Brave men, and always remembered.

  5. Your uncle's wallet - what a wonderful treasure to find. Lovely post.

  6. Wonderful piece, it's always so eery when we find parts of our family history that is so personal.

  7. lol sharon how odd- my comment sbove begins with the 2 word verification words-
    (it told me my comment hadnt been accepted?)

    trying again now to see if i can read the weords this time lol

    leanne x

  8. I wish he had come home too. I wish all the soldiers would have returned home and that all are serving now will return home. I agree with all the above comments. Beautifully written! Good reminder for Memorial Day.

  9. What a wonderful discovery, to have something that actually belonged to him and full of personal bits and pieces from his life must be so thrilling.

  10. I love your FH posts ...I feel your passion and the love for the person, as I read your account ...thanks for sharing xx