Listen here to Brie’s Treasure by Sarah Seefeldt read by Katie M. Reid! Or on your favorite podcast app! Or read it below
If trees represented families, Brie imagined hers as a poor neglected sapling with one little branch.
She grew up as an only child without any cousins around. Brie’s mother had been too caught up in her own life goals – or lack of goals, perhaps – to stop and share family history. Brie had wondered about extended family, about where the rest of the relatives lived, and what history there was in her family. Her mother always dismissed her questions if she tried probing. Moreover, Brie’s father hadn’t stayed long enough to make much of a place in her history.
However, as a young adult Brie had spent countless hours with her maternal grandmother.
Those hours had been sweet and painful at the same time. Her grandmother’s dementia made conversations beyond the most simple daily topics difficult. In fact, Brie was the only family member who spent time with this gentle old woman. Just as in Brie’s childhood, her mother could not seem to find time for her own mother. If only Brie had thought to ask her grandmother these family questions sooner, back when she was a teenager and her grandmother’s mind was still sharp. Now her grandmother sometimes confused 26-year-old Brie with her own younger sister, a woman named Sylvia. Brie tried asking her grandmother about Sylvia, but that always led to confusion. Instead, Brie chose to accept her grandmother as she was and not push her to respond to questions she could no longer answer.
Considering her longing for a connection to history, it was not surprising that Brie pursued a graduate degree in modern history.
Indeed, it was during a course on “women in resistance” when Brie made her life-changing discovery. While reading about a small group of women spies who had helped several Jewish families escape to freedom, Brie found a woman with a familiar family name. Brie had a few items that had belonged to her grandmother. She compared the name to a book that had belonged to her grandmother. There she found her grandmother’s family name before she married was the same name as this resistance woman. When Brie looked further into the biographical information about this woman, she found the names of the parents and siblings: one sister with her grandmother’s name. This resistant woman was Brie’s great-aunt. This was Sylvia, the same one her grandmother mistook Brie for.
Brie had rushed home to her tiny disheveled apartment, where she lived alone, to call her mom and tell her about the discovery.
She had gushed the news breathlessly.
“Well, I guess something interesting finally came from all of this studying you do,” was the bored response from her mother.
Knowing that she had no one else in the family to ask, Brie decided to discover as much information as she could. She poured over historical documents and literature from the time period. She spent hours at the library, even staying up into the early morning. Her eyes turned red from reading newspaper articles commemorating war heroes. Slowly she began piecing together a small portion of her great-aunt Sylvia’s life and work.
When she thought she had learned all she could from the library, Brie discovered that Sylvia had moved to a small town in Ohio, away from the hustle and bustle.
Brie read an interview with a colleague of Sylvia’s who said Sylvia had intended to write a memoir but never got a chance to finish before she died of cancer. Her manuscript and journal were lost now.
Brie was crushed to discover her aunt Sylvia’s words were lost. She had been so caught up in the excitement of finding a piece of her family history, she had not been prepared for this disappointment. However, she tried to think about what she had gained in this discovery and research. Finally she had a part of her family tree to talk about. Finally she had an idea about those who came before her in her lineage. Her heart ached to know more.
Brie poured her energy into writing about her great-aunt. She compiled all the information she had about Sylvia, in addition to some of the other women Sylvia worked with during the war and wrote her final thesis. It was an exciting way to finish her degree. Yet, the story wasn’t complete for Brie. She wanted more. On a whim, she booked a quick trip to Ohio, to the town where Sylvia had lived.
Maybe it would give her a sense of closure, of rounding out the story.
As had been hoped, the weekend proved to be a wonderful way to finish the exploration into her family history. Walking around the town where Sylvia walked, Brie felt close to this heroic woman. She wondered what sort of relationship they might have had if Sylvia had not died before Brie was born. Brie imagined they would have been close and could imagine Sylvia pushing her to pursue her dreams and set her goals high.
A used book sale filled a corner of the town square.
As a book-lover to the core, Brie couldn’t resist a book sale. She meandered through the tables, shuffling stacks, smiling at selections she had read before, making a pile of books she’d like to take home. She had to watch her spending, though. Brie was a poor graduate student, after all. She had carefully budgeted for this trip and did not have very much extra cash to spend. But the books were mostly priced at one or two dollars for big hardbacks and fifty cents for paperbacks, so she thought she could afford a few.
Then, under one of the tables, Brie found scattered piles of books that seemed different from the others. The book sale manager said they were old books gathered from estate sales, easily going back sixty years or so. People usually didn’t want those.
Brie’s heart skipped a beat. Old books from estate sales? She had to admit the chances were slim, but maybe? Could her great-aunt’s manuscript be here?
Brie got down on her knees on the rough street and began searching.
She didn’t worry about wrinkling her skirt or getting her hands dirty from the books. She knew she must look ridiculous kneeling there on the main street, but she couldn’t help it. Brie combed through the stacks, opening covers to see what each volume contained.
And there, in the third pile, she found it. It was simply called, “My Life,” by Sylvia P. Brie couldn’t believe she had found it! Her hands shook as she wiped dust from the miracle book. Tears came to her eyes as she traced the name on the title page. This was written by her aunt, her family.
“How much is this one?” She asked the manager in a rush.
He eyed her suspiciously.
“That one will be $30,” he said tentatively.
Brie knew she was too eager. She knew any rational person would bargain at this point. But this was the treasure she had been searching for. She didn’t care how much she had to pay. She had exactly $30 in her purse. Brie would give it all and figure out later how to get more cash to get home. She forgot all about the other books she had hoped to buy. This one was all that mattered. She had found the treasure for which she had been longing.
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