We Owe It to Granny

Catherine - Louisville, Kentucky
Entered on January 25, 2011
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: legacy

Some family heirlooms are simply meant to be relinquished. My family is in possession of a collection of this exact type of heirloom. The narrative behind this collection is what convinces me that relinquishing these heirlooms would not be abandonment; rather, it would be the best way to assure they remain treasured forever.

In 1925, Albert Diehl came to Louisville from Germany to visit relatives and decided to become a U.S. citizen. A month later, Hedwig Frey, only nineteen, packed a single trunk with her most precious belongings and traveled alone on a passenger ship from Germany to the United States to marry Albert.

Hedwig “Granny” Diehl was my great-grandmother. We still have her trunk, its contents, and memories of the stories she shared about her quick decision to leave the “Old Country” behind and start a new life. Granny’s trunk with its contents should be preserved in the Smithsonian. It is representative of an era when many people immigrated from European countries to the United States, seeking new beginnings.

In addition to necessities, Granny included items that gave her a sense of security as she traveled to a strange country. Before she left, her girlfriends gave her a hand-made, decorative autograph book and a Swiss music box that played two of her favorite childhood tunes. She brought both of those gifts with her. Each night she listened to the music box at bedtime and re-read the memory book to keep her friends close at heart. She also brought her Bible, which she read daily until she replaced it with an English Bible during World War II. Tucked carefully between her clothes was a picture taken of her parents and herself. She knew she would likely never see her parents again. Granny enjoyed all types of needlework; she brought along a small sewing box. Also included in her trunk was a bundle of letters from Albert.

Granny’s trunk and its contents were a comfort to her on her journey and throughout the rest of her life. They were a constant reminder of her childhood, her family, and her life in Germany. This trunk with its treasures is dear to my family. It would be difficult to entrust it to anyone who did not know and love Granny. However, no family member younger than twelve has any memories of Granny, so her precious belongings would be safer and more appreciated in the Smithsonian Institute than they would in the possession of a distant relative.

There were many young Germans who braved their way to the United States around the same time Granny did. Though the contents of her trunk were uniquely special to her, they represent the same types of experiences, memories, and feelings of many other immigrants. Presenting her trunk with its belongings to the Smithsonian would assure Granny’s possessions permanent preservation and help those who view her trunk to have an understanding of what it was like for a young woman to uproot herself and prepare to settle in a strange land.