Families hidden treasures many come in many forms

Many years ago, my father-in-law Danny, who was in his late 70s, was hanging new kitchen cabinets.  Part of the job meant moving some of the ceiling tiles.

When he moved the tile directly above the kitchen sink, he happened upon a paper bag holding $8,000 in cash. 

His wife, Mary, was apoplectic when he found it. She had worked as a housekeeper for many years and had been saving her earnings in that bag to pay for new appliances or other things she wanted that her husband was less than excited about purchasing.

I remember that day vividly as I think about seniors who have lived in the same home for many years, and the treasures that may be hidden there. In Mary and Danny’s case it was cash, but hidden treasures can take on many forms.

When my husband and I were helping a friend clean out his parent’s garage after their passing, I found a diamond engagement ring in a can of nails. I have no idea what prompted me to dump out the contents of that coffee can, but I did.

It turned out to be his mother’s engagement ring. He felt that in her later years she may have hidden it to prevent it from being stolen. His mother had dementia and was often convinced someone was stealing from her.

I have another friend who was going through his father’s desk after his passing and found an envelope taped to the bottom of a drawer. Inside was a postcard from the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas signed by Elvis Presley. Elvis performed there in 1960.

My friend still has that card. Its appraised value is between $1,000 and $1500.

A hundred years ago, there was little to no concept of storing valuables in safes or safety deposit boxes. So, the only place where individuals could store items was an inconspicuous area in their home.

Some more common places included behind loose stones or bricks in foundations, down wells (coins or gold jewelry could be placed in a box and lowered down using a rope), under floorboards, and inside tool cabinets and toolboxes.

My fraternal grandfather earned his living looming scarves for the Plimoth Plantation gift shop and as grounds keeper for Plymouth Rock. His earnings were sporadic, and my grandmother had to run a tight ship to ensure they could make ends meet.

My guess is that she had some savings stashed away for a rainy day. 

I asked my mother if she thought there were hidden treasures in my grandparents’ house, and she said there was a late 1800’s- era musket that had been in the family lore and passed down to my father and, now, my nephew.  I am convinced however there were other hidden possessions, but the house was cleaned out of furnishings and sold quickly after my grandparents’ death.

In everyone’s grief and busyness I am guessing no one thought to look in the basement, attic, stone foundation, or detached garages for secret hiding places.

To me, however, money is less of an interest than things that might be considered heirlooms or treasure mementos.

For example, I found my grandmother’s household ledger in her belongings. It told the story my grandparents’ daily life. Twelve cents for eggs, 33 cents for 5 pounds of sugar, a loan from Father Burrows for $20, and her earnings of a dollar or two for taking in mending projects from friends and neighbors.

If you think there may be some hidden treasures in your parents’ or grandparents’ home, ask them if they remember placing anything in a hidden area for safekeeping. I am sure my friend’s father would have loved to be reunited with his forgotten Elvis autograph, and there would have been a great story to go along with it.

When you are clearing out a loved one’s home because they are moving or have passed, remember to take some time to look in places where hidden treasures might be stored.

What you find may just lead you to a deeper understanding of your parents as people, and that would be a hidden treasure unto itself. 


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Tags: hidden mementos

Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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