Everyone has something they gravitate towards when they collect, or go to a swap meet or flea market. For my wife it is boxes, more specifically boxes with things in them. Little mysteries or puzzles waiting to be unraveled. Most people avoid these boxes. She looks for boxes which haven’t been touched in generations. The complete frustrating life of human being long passed, tangled up in bits of letters, photographs, bits of jewelry long forgotten. For her this is a TREASURE BOX. The past comes alive. Recently she found one. I make it clear they are not my joy, they are hers. The hunt is on…
Inside is a bunch of old photographs of various ages. Yes they have probably long since passed on. A few teacher’s certificates and writing. On starts the hunt. She has figured out that the owner of the Box was Edna Elinor Pittam. Edna was born 14 March 1876 in Johnson Co Nebraska. She became a teacher and earned on certificate in 1890 when she was 14 years old. That may sound extremely young, but it was normal. My wife’s Grandmother taught school in Oklahoma and earned hers very young as well. There were few options for women in the 1890’s. There were not many options much latter on either. Edna earned another certificate in 1896 , this one says Second Grade Certificate. To be honest I am not sure what the that means in this day and age.
Slowly she puts the pieces of the past together to learn that Edna Elinor Pitam married on 16 February 1898 (she was 21) to Clarence Alonzo Underwood (he was born 25 Dec 1873) in Vesta, Nebraska. She may have continued to teach. There is a picture of school children and an American flag with 48 stars (this flew from July 4th 1912 to July 3rd 1949). Edna and Clarence had five children. The first was born in 1901, Harold Pittam Underwood. The next was Gerald Millard Underwood born 30 Jan 1904 – died 31 Jan 1904. I have never lost a child. I have known others that have, it is a bone deep pain that only they can truly know. That is all I will say on that matter. I can not imagine this woman’s grief or her husband’s. I know childhood death rates were extremely high in the early 1900’s. We don’t know what he died of, only that he lived for one day. Edna was not yet 28. Everett Cedric Underwood was born 4 Oct. 1905, then came Edwin Bruce Underwood November 1907, and Dale Smith Underwood on the 12 Sept. 1913. Edna passed away in Gage County, Nebraska 13 Jan 1921. She was hardy old, even by those standards. She was only about 45 years old. The youngest child would have been turning 8 that year. Clarence Alonzo Underwood did remarry and had one more child in 1928. That child had his name. He out lived both his wives, and at least three of his children passing away 20 Jan 1965 in Pawnee City, Nebraska.
There was a picture of a family grouping , several boys and smaller girls along with a tall man next to an older lady on crutches. Looks like an old model T in the background and a cemetery plot for the UNDERWOOD family. Taken in early 1920 or so. Another older one from the 1910’s take of the PITTAM family plot. One photograph post card looks to be from the 1920’s or so. There are several what are called Real Photograph Post Cards or RPPC’s. These replaced the the traditional Cabinet Cards. It wan’t until 1902 that Eastman Kodak made the paper with the pre-printed back, the following year they sold the special camera. One is marked CHRISTENSEN PHOTOGRAPHER NELSON NEBRASKA on the back as well. The picture is an early one, as it has the white boarder, and the child did not sit still. The picture is badly blurred. Fragments of two families that became one.
Then there are several stories copied down in pencil. A mystery at first. But simply , just that pieces of a story which had been copied more than likely for classwork or school. A lastly a silk ivory handkerchief. I had no idea what that was about. My wife told me it was a traditional item carried in Victorian times at your wedding. The finer silk the better. You can see through this one. It was often a gift given by a sister, of maid of honor, or your mother. Something special you held on to and never used. A bride’s gift to pass on to your daughter one day. This one is worn from sitting in the box among all these bits and pieces of Edna’s past. It still survives today. Her story survives in part today. Part due to the box she kept all those special items in , items which she felt were special. The box may have been her jewelry box.
So a daughter, turned teacher, turned wife and mother.. and now we know her name and something of her life. Those things may teach us a few things about life, love, family and priorities.