Buried Treasure…. or “Better ‘n Bens!”

In the early nineteen eighties, America experienced an oil shortage. Home heating prices soared, and scarcity abounded. Thus, people scurried to find alternate sources of heat. Living in Connecticut where winter is a harsh reality, our 3000 square foot house was fueled by oil. As a result of the shortage, my engineer husband bought a wood-burning stove to fit into our family room fireplace. Research proved that Better ‘n Bens was the top brand, and it was a lifesaver. The entire back of the house was toasty; we could boil water in a teakettle on the stove or even cook a hamburger if there was a power outage; and everyone felt cozy and warm. Our oil consumption was minimal.

I tell you about Better ‘n Bens because at that time in our lives, the stove was an indescribably wonderful treasure. Can’t remember any other purchase that reaped more comfort for us, except perhaps a window air conditioner for the kitchen that cooled us during the hot summer months!

Now, all these years later, another treasure has come into my family’s lives, much to my delight.  While ploughing through a bulky bin of saved books on a recent rainy afternoon, I spied a 1936 edition of Gone with the Wind, gathered from my mother’s house in 1998 after she died. Something told me to flip through the pages. To my great surprise, I found three folded yellow legal-pad papers, written in mother’s handwriting. Seeing her distinctive script, reading her words, and having a glimpse into the heart and mind of a person whom I adored and who richly shaped my life was nostalgic ambrosia. A huge lump formed in my throat, and I felt as if I unearthed a nugget of gold.

When someone you love has died, and when you accidentally find something personal that reveals that person’s mind alive, you feel you are sharing precious moments together. My mother was an English major, a librarian, and she adored the written word. For birthdays and Christmas my sister and I always received carefully chosen and beautifully wrapped books, some of which I have to this day. TV and internet did not exist, so books were our go-to entertainment. And she and daddy sent us to a school that required each student to read a plethora of books during the summer. All were selected from a list decided by the faculty. Thus, a love of reading was nurtured and perpetuated.

Seeing mother’s handwriting and learning her thoughts about Scarlett, Rhett and Ashley opened my eyes to a glimpse of my mother that I never realized existed. To quote her, “For a week after finishing Mrs. Mitchell’s book, I actually felt lost……I had adopted her characters in such a wholesale manner that their troubles were mine, their time my time.” In describing Scarlett, mother wrote that she is “a vain, jealous, sell-willed, unscrupulous, green-eyed little hypocrite, who possesses unusual beauty and a way with the men. Times innumerable you feel like strangling her, but you always push on….if only to ascertain whether or not retribution is inevitable as the old Greeks would have us believe.”

Who can deny that this writing didn’t take root in a person of conviction? Now I know where my own strong beliefs originate. Now I understand how valued my discovery of mother’s book review is in learning more about her…..even twenty years after her death. I love knowing her better. And I love the connection I feel to her as she was during her early decades of life. She must have been in her thirties when she wrote this piece. She died at age 94, still in possession of a keen mind and, in retrospect, a very determined nature. She refused to move from the house that my sister and I grew up in, and although we disagreed with her decision to stay put and not move to a retirement facility, mother followed her heart, and left the worry of what to do with her possessions to her daughters after she died. Not my way, but hers.

The moral of this story lies in the fact that when something of value comes into our lives, be it an old fashioned wood stove to heat our bodies, or a long-lost book review tucked away for decades, we find that life brings us treasures. They can come to us in different forms. Surely the Better ‘n Bens’ fireplace stove bought during a cold winter and heating crisis was a godsend of one kind. And for a daughter approaching her eightieth birthday, reading and absorbing the incredible gift of a book review written by her mom is an intrinsic gift from Above. We are touched by the past and energized for the future. May we never let our high-tech age with its sophisticated heating and cooling devices as well as the internet replace a wood burning stove or old-fashioned pen and pencil. Each is a treasure that can live long after we are gone.

Incidentally, Better ‘n Bens stoves are still made. Ratings are great. We each have pencils and pens and yellow legal pads. SO, truth be told, some things never go out of style!

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock