My parents kept the iron safe tucked inside a corner of a bedroom closet. The floor safe remained there, holding important documents, a diamond ring before it was sold, and a box of coins. When their household goods were divided among my brothers and me, Tim assumed custody of the safe.
I had a surprise question from Jeannie a few months ago asking if we or one of our sons would like to have it. We asked Sam if he would like to be next in line to caretake this safe. He was delighted. The day to bring it home came on Thursday, also Veterans Day, a day when Tim was especially on my mind. He is a U.S. Navy Seabee veteran of the Vietnam War.
But how does one move a floor safe, well, safely? Its weight is unknown, but it is certainly not something that should be lifted to determine. I previously didn't give a thought to such things. Funny how aging turns thought patterns upside down.
Rain was predicted; the ramps we found to rent for the trip weren't tall enough to secure onto Sam's RAM truck bed. What to do? Overkill it, that's what! It's the Cronk way.
Jeannie didn't realize it was us when Brian and Sam pulled into her driveway Thursday. She was expecting a normal-sized vehicle. Before I could get parked, Sam and Brian were headed inside to survey the safe and assess the asset. But lunch called our name, so first things first: off to meet Jeannie's nephew Matt at Liberty Bell.
Back at Jeannie's following lunch, and with Matt along, in came Brian's trusted dolly, inherited from his dad. Sam was able to crack the safe quickly (I've always wanted to use that term, so there it is). My thorough brother, Tim, had left the combination.
There were papers inside, no, not a secret stash of cash, but rather an envelope bulging with old photos, and some miscellaneous bank and real estate papers, along with insurance policies on 1970s vehicles long-since gone.
My thought is that the pictures are a curated collection that Tim wanted to make sure got passed on in the family, and the other papers had simply remained there from the 1970s where Dad left them ...
Jeannie sent the contents home for us to decide about.
You can't read the company nameplate on the right of the door, but it says The Wehrle Stove Company in Newark, Ohio. The company's start came from an 1883 iron foundry where farm goods were made. In 1885, Joseph Wehrle became a partner and stoves became the principle product. Joseph's sons took it over and in 1904, the company bought Atlas Safe Company. Thirty-five fireproof safes were made daily in 18 sizes. The above information is from The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology.
So, while I don't have a firm date on our family safe, the company nameplate would place it at least 1904. I saw a similar safe online that is credited with 1910. It appears that the company stamped or engraved the name of the safe owner above the door.
A similar personalized nameplate in the same font, size and color appears on the 1910 version. So I would put the safe at around 110-115 years old, give or take.
The family name on the safe is that of my great-grandfather, George (G.W. on the safe) Job(e). My understanding is that George changed the family name from the biblical or Irish spelling of Job to Jobe. He added the e.
He married Donna McDougal, who was known as Donnie. I have a gold bracelet of Donnie's. The original Job(e)s were from Ireland in the 1820s, and the McDougals from Scotland in the same era. Both families settled in or around Brownsville.
The McDougals are buried in the Christian Union graveyard in Brownsville while the early Jobs are buried in the pioneer cemetery of the old Robinson Chapel in Fayette County. George, however, is in the Springersville Cemetery. Roscoe (his only son who survived past a young age) is buried in the Brownsville United Methodist Cemetery along with recent generations of my Jobe family.
The first Job (no e) to come to the area from Ireland was Samuel Job. Interestingly enough, we named our firstborn Samuel Jobe Cronk. We had no idea then of the family history of the name. I had this photo in my files of the original safe owner, George Job.
Original owner of the antique safe, George Job, my great-grandfather, and wife Donna (Donnie) McDougal Job. Only Roscoe (the younger boy in this photo) lived to enjoy adulthood. His only son to live to adulthood was my father, Huburt. If Huburt were alive, he would be 109. This photo would be around 129 years old.
Some time ago, I located George's obituary. If I find I am not remembering this correctly, I will correct it, but it seems that he served as president of the Brownsville Telephone Co. Back in the early 1900s, small communities had their own local phone companies.
You'll realize how that worked out in everyday terms when I tell you the cause of his death: Complications from falling off a telephone pole. I would gather then, that the company president was also a lineman.
I can only imagine the various important papers, life savings, deeds to much-loved and labored-over property, have passed through that old family safe.
My brother Tim always got a laugh out of our crazy Cronk antics. I know he would laugh (and how I miss that laugh!) at the effort involved in renting a van to come and get the safe. Overkill, yes. The Cronk MO.
But it's safe and sound at Sam's now. Another number in the combination that makes up this family.
My paternal grandmother came to live with us when I was in second grade. I look back now and realize that the preparation for moving her out of her small-town home into our farmhouse had begun the previous year.
It was then that my folks added on a bedroom—the largest of three in the house—with a plan for me to share it with Grandma. That’s what happened for those last few years of her life.
About the time Grandma became my roomie, a package for her arrived from friends at church. It was called a sunshine box, and it was a thing so curious and beautiful to these then-young eyes that I never forgot it.
The sturdy standard-issue cardboard box had been hand-covered with a paper garden of flowers, pasted in a collage over the entire package. The pictures had no doubt been clipped from seed catalogs for creating this unique “container garden.”
Inside were practical and interesting items that a senior woman in her 70s might use. One was a shaker container of scented body powder called Cashmere Bouquet, if memory serves; another, a small devotional book of encouragement. I don’t remember what else was in there, probably some Peppermint chewing gum or the bright-pink mints she favored; maybe a box of all-occasion cards for sending. I was as or more excited than Grandma to watch her unpack such lovely small gifts.
A variation on the sunshine box concept resurfaced earlier this year during Brian’s illness when friends from his former workplace sent word that he would be getting a gift basket. The result was not one but three containers overflowing with crossword-puzzles, handpicked books, candles, candy, gift cards, and other thoughtful comforts of love and friendship.
I vowed to do better at sharing this kind of love with others.
With memories of the vintage sunshine box in mind, several weeks ago I made my first one. I wanted it to be as much as possible like the one Grandma had received in the 1960s.
A childhood church friend and I had decided that we would visit two ladies from our youth who still attend the same church we attended. One, in fact, just turned 101 in October, and the other one is decades' younger, recovering from a surgery.
The week before our outing, I thought my laundry-basket-sized box would be a breeze to cover. I didn’t have any seed catalogs, so I flipped through stacks of general-interest magazines a friend had given me and tore out flowers, pictures of people doing fun things, cute kittens, phrases such as “Highway to heaven,” and attached them to the box with Mod Podge. I found that cardboard soaks up a lot of glue, so I put it on heavy.
I still didn’t have enough pretty pictures to cover the box. So, I went through more magazines of my own, and supplemented the collage with some floral wrapping paper from the closet. Finally, it was finished; my first old-fashioned sunshine box! It looked pretty good, if I do say so myself.
The friend and I met for lunch on a Monday. She also provided a decorated sunshine box. We divided our contributions of gently used magazines, books, cards, notebooks, and snacks between the two boxes and signed cards to go with the goods. Then we visited our friends at their separate locations.
More meaningful than the boxes, we spent an hour or longer with each of our recipients talking and telling life stories, being in no hurry to run off. Time is, after all, the best gift. We all enjoyed the visit, of that I am certain.
When I explained to the then-nearly 101-year-old about the boxes, I realized something. She may well have been one of the friends who contributed to that sunshine box for my grandmother back in the 1960s!
“Yes, we used to send sunshine boxes in the WSCS,” she said matter-of-factly of the United Methodist Church women’s organization, called Women’s Society of Christian Service in that era.
This was a full-circle moment. Without memories of that box, I would never have thought to suggest it as a goodwill present a half-century later.
I find it interesting to reconnect with people from my youth and to know that while I’ve reached retirement status, there are still those alive who remember my grandparents and parents. It feels amazing, particularly, because I haven’t lived in my hometown area in 43 years. Even so, it feels as close as ever to my heart, and the sense of belonging runs deep.
Just months into this retirement gig, I’m finding that one of the general principles I like most is that there is now the time to do things like this; to hop in the car and go visit someone. It’s nice to take a little something along as a gift—or to take a sunshine box.
Fill it with recent-issue magazines, inexpensive packaged treats (or home-baked if you can), toiletries, maybe pass along the book you just read and enjoyed, some stamps, envelopes and paper or notecards. Then sign and write a note on a card of your own with a nice note to wrap up a lot of joy for the recipient to know, “I am thought of. I am cared about.”
Whether you call it a sunshine box, a care package, a gift basket, or something else, it doesn’t take much except effort to make someone else’s day. Giving it away will make your own in the process.
Retired New Castle Courier-Times Neighbors Editor Donna Cronk’s Next Chapter column appears the second and fourth Saturdays in The Courier-Times and The Shelbyville News. It runs the first and third Tuesdays in the Connersville News-Examiner. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.