One thing fun about volunteering at the military museum is I sometimes get to receive memorabilia to add to the collection.
Yesterday, a fellow, Myron W., brought in several items he thought we might like, though he wasn’t too sure. Like a framed copy of the famous photo of a sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square at the end of WWII. A Seabee pennant. An equator crossing certificate dated August 1943. A handbook the US Navy gives to new seamen to help them learn the things sailors need to know to be good sailors, this one a 1940 issue. Three war bond savings books, two for 10 cent stamps, and one for 25 cent stamps.
I wrote down each item on the sheet used to receive items into the collection, and each one gave evidence of the challenges people endured in WWII, both as members of the armed services and as civilians. Myron and I had a long talk about each item and how it would enrich the collection held at the museum.
[The Sallows Military Museum.]
He seemed relieved. His late wife was the collector in his family, he noted. She didn’t throw away anything, especially if it had a history behind it. She loved history, and she cherished each of these items, preserved them in pristine condition for decades. Then she died.
“It’s just clutter to me,” he said, “but it meant so much to my wife. None of our kids is interested in any of it, but I don’t want it around.”
He pointed to his head with both hands, “This is where I keep my wife’s memory. I keep our family history in here! I don’t need things to remember.” He noted “things” just made him sad. He hoped the museum could use the items, a tribute to his wife’s care in preserving them all those years.
I reassured him he’d just donated some of the nicest items of those I’d received from people for the museum, because they’d been so well cared for, but also because they told so many stories about a specific time and people in our country’s history, a time where it wasn’t certain we’d even survive as a free people. Darn right, the museum was glad to accept them! How else, how better to inform young people about the process that saved this country and the world from brutal regimes? How else, how better to honor the memories of the people who fought those battles, survived that time, and helped create the world we enjoy today?
The Sallows Military Museum isn’t a large institution. It gets scant funds from the city to stay open. It isn’t even open every day because of lack of volunteers. Until recently, it only had one paid employee, a part time curator who put her heart into running the museum and making the exhibits meaningful. I rarely have a lot of people show up during my time there on Thursdays as a volunteer, and they rarely stay very long. It’s not fancy. In fact, it is in an old city property – the 1930s swimming pool bath house – that was refurbished and refitted to become the museum. Lots of volunteer help made it happen, many small money donations. No less important, maybe even more important, are people like the man who brought in the donations yesterday. The museum is a community project that empties closets and basements of “useless” stuff taking up space and makes it into meaningful displays that personalize the history of some of the country’s toughest challenges and our community’s role in it.
Myron, of course I was glad to accept your donations for the museum! Thank you! And bless your late wife for her foresight to save the items you donated in her and your family’s name! I don’t get paid to open the museum for three hours on Thursday afternoons, but thanks to people like you, I definitely feel rewarded!