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OUT OF THE ATTIC

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Wissahickon Collection

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Two Families' Histories, World Travel, and World Coins

My grandfather was the first of 3 generations of Merrill's to work for a wealthy family in the small mid-west city where I was born and raised. Grandpa served as a butler, chauffeur and a cook. Between his wages and the hand-me-downs (unwanted clothes, food, etc.) from Family "X", he provided well for his family.

Grandma was the first in our family to attend college. She obtained a teaching degree from Pittsburg State College (Kansas).

When they married in 1917, she was required to stop teaching. No married women were allowed to teach.

Still, life went well over the next few years. They started a family; Grandpa had steady employment; and they managed to save a little money. So, they decided to buy a car. Grandpa went to his employer, The head of Family "X", and let him know of his intentions. Where upon, he was quickly informed, "No Black Man needs a car! -And, if you do buy one, You're FIRED!!!" Grandma and Grandpa didn't get a car.

Granddad's employment continued to be steady leading into and during the Depression, as service to Family "X" was a constant and demanding requirement.

During winters, they migrated to a family home in Carmel, California or to the Cloisters on Sea Island, Ga. This required Grandpa to have extended absences from his family (now 2 sons and a daughter).

The last winter he went away was in 1934. Grandma received a telegram that Grandpa was dead of a heart attack in Carmel, Ca. His oldest son, James, Jr., went to California to ride back on the train with his father's body.

Now in the midst of the Depression, the family "Bread Winner" was gone. But wait, Grandma is a college educated, experienced teacher- NOT TO BE! The "rules" also forbid a widowed woman with children from teaching. So the family survived by the 2 sons (my dad and his brother) working after school for Family "X", and grandma took in laundry.

After returning from the War, Dad tried to enroll at the local junior college, using the GI Bill, but was told, "No Blacks Allowed!"

Over the years, both brothers continued to work part-time for Family "X", while engaging in full-time work in factories and as a mechanic. I can remember, as a kid, riding with Dad on nights when he chauffeured the family matriarch around town. By then, her husband was dead, and her children moved away. I used to talk to her from the front seat, even though I was told that I wasn't supposed to.

In my teen years, I joined the ranks of the Merrill's who worked for "The Family". When Mrs "X" went to California for the winter, Dad and I shoveled snow from the city-block long sidewalk in front of the estate.

Eventually, they all, left town for good, and sold the estate. Dad helped clean out the 3 story house and prep it for sale.

I started collecting coins in my 20's, after college. One day, while visiting back home, I was talking with Dad about my collecting activities, and he said, "I have something that might interest you." He left the room , and returned with a hand full of coins. They were mostly Japanese: 1, 5, 10, and 20 Sen. Also, a few from China, India, and other Asian countries.

Dad found them in the attic of the old estate when he was cleaning. He said that the floor was littered with them, and there were big steamer trunks that the family used when they would go on their European and "around the world" cruises. This was back when people would travel for months, and write stories of their "foreign adventures".

When they would return from their voyage, my grandfather would store their clothes and put the trunks in the attic. Apparently whatever "local" coins they had left, as they moved from country to country, were thrown into the trunks.

Dad "floored" me with his last statement. "The coins were all over the attic. I got tired of sweeping them up. Besides, they weren't U.S. anyway, so I just left them there!"

To this day, I often wonder, "What's up in that attic?" I still have the Japanese coins and one from India. When I look at them. they represent so much more to me than some "foreign coins". I see Grandpa climbing the stairs with those trunks on his back.

I never got to see my Grandad- he died well before I was born. But I feel like I knew him.

I see him in my Japanese coins- "COMING OUT OF THE ATTIC"

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