One fine day in the summer of 2011, Tom was working in the yard when a car stopped in front of our house. A couple emerged and the woman gestured toward the house as they stood on the sidewalk, tracing the outline of the home with her hands as she spoke. As Tom went to greet them, they introduced themselves as the Tuckfields from California. Julie Tuckfield explained that she had lived in the house as a child in the 1940s.
We invited them in to take a "tour" and were treated to a flood of room-by-room reminiscences. Julie recalled sitting at the dining room table, gazing out the same large mullioned window for what seemed like hours until she finished a detested vegetable. "This was my room," she said of what is now our guest room, where she was bedridden for a while with an illness. She asked if she could bring her older brother, Bud, back the next day to see the home. We assented and eagerly awaited their return.
Bud Harvey, a tall white-haired gentleman, explained that he had erected the white picket fence that surrounds our patio in 1946, still standing strong nearly 70 years later. His room was in the basement (which was fully finished, unusual for a home built in the 1920s, and is now our working studio) and we wondered how he could have jumped out of bed without hitting his head on the low ceiling. He spoke of building a model airplane in the washroom (still a washroom) that was so large he had to detach the wings in order to get it out.
In our line of work, we see so many connections between seemingly unrelated events in the lives of our clients that we are no longer surprised by them (although it is always a pleasure to discover such connections.) So we were delighted to find out that Bud Harvey had been a high school buddy of Tom's uncle, Marvin Johnson (whose history book we are currently working on).
Marvin later told us of a prank he and Bud once pulled: they removed a mascot statue from the rival West High School lobby, making a getaway on Bud's motorcycle with the panther perched between the handlebars. They couldn't figure out a way to return it without getting caught, so they crated the statue and left it on the steps of the Salt Lake City Public Library with a 3-cent stamp, addressed to West High School!
Talking with Julie and Bud vividly reminded us that seeing the places of one's childhood, even in an altered state, is a powerful memory trigger. Describing the sights, sounds, and even smells of the places important to us can add authenticity and a richness of detail to our life stories and are well worth including in a personal history.