Thursday, August 11, 2011

history uncovered, discovered

Special numbers “We're sorry about your Dad. He was such a special man.” Although I've heard those words countless times recently, they're still comforting reminders that my Dad and his good works will be long remembered. However, coming from the third generation owners of the bicycle shop that had served three generations of Koplens, the kind message had a special ring.

We'd talked about our family histories before, mostly in passing. But this time was a little different. I'd started the conversation by mentioning one historical find at the old Franklin's building I was renovating.

Hidden behind a few pieces of plywood was part of a tin fire door that had been jambed into the opening that had once been used for shipping. At least that's what I thought before I began to remove the tin covered door. It was built of four layers of criss-crossed one by sixes with dozens of eight penny nails on each board, held in place with 16 penny nails angled into the old frame. When I pulled out the last one, the top of the door moved toward me, away from the opening. I stepped aside, slipped a crow bar behind the exposed corner, and pulled. A moment later the door crashed onto the wooden floor.

What was revealed surprised me. There were two thin bead board doors that had once been locked together. All that was left of the lock were screw holes and the faded paintless rectangle where it had been. But what really amazed me was the poster that had been scotch taped onto the door, perhaps 80-100 years ago. Careful not to touch it, I read this message:

Your RED CROSS must carry on! then, below a solid red cross in the center of the black and white picture of a Red Cross worker in her uniform standing behind a soldier in a wheelchair, both gazing into the horizon, the one word GIVE.

Because they were as intrigued as I had been, an instant later they offered to show me their latest find. “Here's a copy of a 1928 phone book and pictures from the bike store back then, before it was on Wilson Street [where it had been when I was a little boy].”

What a treat it was to see those images, reminiscent of what an old part of our store had looked like four decades earlier. I thanked them for letting me see their treasures. It was past time for me to return to the store; I was late for an appointment.

“Look at this!” I turned back to see that they'd found the 'K' page in the old phone book. “Here's your great-grandfather's store. The number was 314, obviously a very old phone number since the one for your grandfather Abe was 2262.”

I stared at the two listings. Just reading the address of my grandfather's house brought to mind stories my Dad had told about the time spent on that corner of West Main. For a while, after WW II, at least three Koplen families lived together there. I remembered Dad telling me that, except for one room with a stove, there was seldom enough heat in the winter. But I'd never asked him whether they'd had a phone. Or whether he'd ever heard Grandpa Abe call his father, Max.

Until yesterday with my old friends at the bicycle shop, I'd never thought of that question. Perhaps, later today, I'll ask my Mom.

B. Koplen 4/6/11

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