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The Way It Was: Forgotten drawers can be unexpected treasure troves of keepsakes

by John Straka Published: January 12, 2014 12:00 AM

While looking for something in a drawer, I came upon one of my many keepsakes.

I haven't seen this one in a long time, but I remember the circumstances of how I came to own it. It was about 40 years ago when I bought a used Corvair. One of the first things I did when I brought the car home was to give it a good cleaning, both inside and out. In the process, I reached under the front seat and found a key. It's not a real key but a very thin replica. It must be either solid gold, or heavily gold plated, because it shines just like it might be brand new. The best part is that it bears this inscription: "BRIDGET BARDOT 27 Rue de l'Amour PARIS, FRANCE."

I have no idea of how much it might be worth. My guess is that it was a souvenir someone brought to the U.S. from Paris. I wonder who that someone might be. For a while I carried it in my pocket and would show it off, joking that I had a key to Miss Bardot's apartment. For those too young to know, Miss Bardot was a sexy French lady, something like our Betty Grable or Marilyn Monroe.

Another precious keepsake is my Mother's gold watch. I think it might have been a gift for her 18th birthday. That would make the watch very close to 100 years old now. I haven't wound it up lately, but if my memory is correct, it still ran a few years ago. I also have her gold dance card lead pencil. When she was in her teens and early 20s, girls who went to a dance would carry a dance card and pencil to write in the names of dance partners for the evening. If a young man asked for a dance, and the lady didn't want to accept his invitation, she could just say her dance card was already full.

I also have my father's shaving mug. When he decided he didn't want to be a tailor, he took a job as conductor on the Cleveland streetcar line. His uniform and golden streetcar watch gave him professional status, and he was privileged to have his own personal shaving mug stored in a pigeonhole on the wall in his favorite barbershop. The mug is decorated with gold trim and shows a streetcar. All such mugs were decorated with lodge insignia or job related symbols.

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For a couple of years, I was a student at Our Lady of Lourdes school in Cleveland. I have a gold lapel pin engraved with the words, "5th Grade 1928." That pin is one of three awarded to the top three students in my all boys class. I never knew if I was first, second or third. That information was not disclosed.

When my parents operated a candy store, my Dad had a box of 100 aluminum tokens made, with a name and "5 cents" stamped on them. They were supposed to be used instead of cash on things like bottle deposits or refunds. I haven't counted them recently, but I think there must be about 80 or 90 in the box.

During our honeymoon (1950) our 9-year-old car burned out a connecting rod bearing. It took almost two days to have it fixed. The man who did the work charged only $42. I have the original receipt for that. Today, it would probably cost more than the car would be worth. When we got home and set up housekeeping in our new home, we went shopping for all the little things needed in a new home - spices, salt, sugar, flour, matches, toothpicks, soap, potatoes, canned goods, and much more. I have the register tape from that, our first shopping trip. It's about a yard long and totals around $30.

Around 1985, I was on the committee planning our 50-year high school reunion. I have a copy of the booklet printed for that event. It has been a source for locating my classmates at various times over the years. I have tried to keep it current, especially when I know one of them has died. Now it appears I may be one of only two survivors.

My uncle Tony was a carpenter who also lived in Maple Heights. After he died, his widow, my Aunt Mary, gave me his straight razor and the whole set of wood boring tools. They are in cloth-lined wooden cases and are as shiny as when they were brand new. I used them often, especially when our house was still new and I was installing shelves and making benches and counters.

Upon my retirement, the owner of the company presented me with a high quality wristwatch. I seldom wear it, except maybe on special occasions.

My father and his cousin were about the same age, and when the cousin opened an office as a physician and surgeon, he became our family doctor. My sister and her husband visited the doctor on his nearby farm. They brought back a sapling tree and planted in their front yard. They lived a few doors down our street and I watched that tree grow for about 60 years. After they both died, the house was sold and the new owners had the tree cut down. It must have been about 60 feet tall. I rescued a piece of that tree's trunk and it's now drying in my basement. Haven't yet decided what to make out of it.

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