I was speaking with a friend last night and we were talking about what happens to someone’s prized possessions and photos when those people are no longer with us. What’s priceless to one person, worthless to another. Memories fade with time. And so perhaps it was with the old photo album, relegated to a second hand table at a local flea market. I saw it last month and it really bothered me that pictures of Peter and Mary, love letters from the 1940’s, pictures from his time in the Navy, were being picked over for a profit. I went back last week and it was there again. I couldn’t pass it by. They wanted $25 for it. I bargained them to $20 and felt guilty doing it. Someone’s life summed up in the pages of a weathered, old photo album, and I haggled for a better price.
If you’ve been following the stories this week, you’ve heard about Peter and Mary. Tucked inside those pages, the story of a young couple in love. Peter in the Navy. Mary working at home. She’d write him all the time. Letters. Cards. A snap shot of a bygone era. There was a small piece of cloth from Pearl Harbor tucked inside. There was a western union telegram from his birthday. Air mail envelopes with a three cent stamp and the message, “win the war”. Pictures of their young boy.
And so I bought the album and did the only thing I know how to do in this social media era when it comes to finding someone quickly. I wrote a Facebook post, hoped it would go viral, and used the power of the Internet to help me in my search for Peter and Mary’s family.
People shared it. Friends of mine. My reporter friends. First a couple. Then a few dozen. Then a hundred or more. I wrote a second post. And a third. People contacted me from across the country, filling in little pieces of the puzzle. People contacted other folks hoping to find Peter and Mary’s family. I contacted the Navy, Navy historians, and countless wrong numbers. And then, someone contacted ME. “Peter and Mary are my grandparents”.
“My grandparents were my life.”
And so today I hesitantly dialed her number and we spoke on the phone and I got to hear first-hand– even if briefly– the story of Peter and Mary. She’d never seen this album before, doesn’t know how it ended up in a flea market, and she was grateful that a random person thought enough of the album to retrieve it.
The little boy Peter and Mary spoke about in the album so many decades ago? He was her uncle. He died in Vietnam. It was rough on the family, especially for her grandmother. Their other son (born after this album)– her dad– also fought in Vietnam. He made it home. And recently they too have been looking into their past, tracing their family’s history of service in Vietnam.
I described the album’s rough and worn contents, a treasure trove of family memories. And then I prepared them for transit. Memories from Pearl Harbor to Southern California and beyond, memories of Peter and Mary and the life they made together, now headed via Fed Ex to their next destination, ready for a loving home and a family reunion. As for the next chapter? It’s now her’s to share.
Thanks so much for everyone who helped with the search unraveling the mystery of the old photo album.