I had the honor of reading this poem in Picton, Ontario, at the annual meeting of the Historical Committee of the Canadian Friends (Quakers).
Wide boards cut from virgin trees
By racing water-powered mills,
Its nails of iron made by hand,
Ancient hinges working still.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Westward moved our pioneer fathers,
Through Connecticut to the Hudson,
Cleared the land with Friends and cousins,
Fed on potatoes, corn and venizen.
Their trunk held quilts and dear essentials,
It was sometimes luggage, sometimes chair,
A furnishing for the new log cabin,
Like a family member there.
Once it held a diary,
The record of a family’s tossing
On a wooden ship with sails,
From England to a new world crossing.
Cracks in its boards appeared at times,
Like the splits that came between
Loyalists and Patriots raising rifles –
Stirring hatreds unforeseen.
War, like passion, often heedless
Of its consequential harms;
To the victors went the spoils:
The Loyalist’s beautiful, hard-built farms.
Again the trunk was heavily laden,
Again the treasures and quilts it bore,
To Saratoga and finally northward
To Upper Canada’s southern shores.
New log cabins were built and cherished
As shelter from the northern cold,
Quilts from the chest brought warmth and comfort
As our family roots took hold.
Soon a home, a school and a Meeting House
Graced the community in the new land.
A sawyer, a joiner, and a village smithy
Provided the means for it to stand.
In time the trunk – no longer needed –
Found its place in a farmhouse warm.
The Andrus men had toiled to build it,
A marker on their prosperous farm.
Yet deep inside the pine boards’ casing
Was the treasure most had forgot:
The diary of those long-dead travelers
Who left England and freedom sought.
This treasure might have slowly decayed
But for an Andrus son who looked to see
The tale of his ancestral fathers
And the words they wrote in their diary.
His name was Hercules (though small he was);
His keen eye scanned the written pages
From the family’s crossing and their new start –
Their place in The Colonies’ early stages.
We might still have this diary,
But poor Hercules had unfortunate luck:
A fire raged through his family home,
Destroying the diary when it struck.
And so the empty trunk remains
Kept by a cousin in a storage shed,
Empty of its historical cache –
Keeping history to itself, unsaid.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A trunk is but a lifeless box
Of the mute and stoic kind,
It keeps the family secrets
Without heart or hands or mind.
But to each succeeding generation
A human touch its help must lend,
To gather and protect the past
The family heritage to extend.
Ben, Elfleda, Cliff, Roseanne, all vital in their time,
Each with a loving heart, giving
To save what was and pass it on –
Sharing history with the living.
I thank you, dearest cousins,
Blessed be your memory,
The keepers of the treasures
My children’s children will someday see.