A War Experience Recovered by
(194 Stories)

Prompted By Memorabilia

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Why the small beige box was in my mother’s dresser I’ll never know. Most of the items pictured belonged to my father’s father, Max Hirschkowitz as he was known in 1918. My father must have kept them, and the box was just swept up and stayed in the dresser through many moves. Even when we took the dresser to my mother’s apartment in a senior residence, I didn’t know the box was in it. One day about six months ago (pre-pandemic), I was visiting my mother and she was looking for something else in the top drawer of the dresser when her hand came upon the box. “What’s that?” she wondered.

Why the small beige box was in my mother's dresser I'll never know. The items pictured belonged to my father's father ...

When we opened the box, out came a bevy of small items, some pictured here. They document my grandfather’s World War I experience, and my mother gladly gave the box to me. The prompt for this story reminded me that the items were sitting, in the same box, on my office closet shelf, and I hadn’t looked at them closely. It’s been a wonderful afternoon visiting with them. That’s what memorabilia are all about.

I know only the basic outline of my grandfather’s war activities. He was drafted, I believe, and being a conscientious objector, said he would go to Europe but not carry a gun. He ended up as a private in the medical corps in France, a very dirty and dangerous job by all accounts. The dog tag information in the photo confirms his rank and assignment. I’m not sure what the medals on the ribbon mean, exactly, nor do I know what the little pins are about (they could be masonic, although I doubt he became a mason until later), or when he got the pocket watch. A note indicates that the watch might have originally belonged to my great grandfather Abraham Levine, my grandmother’s father. Max died when I was 10, so I never got an adult perspective on the war, just some crazy songs he’d sing to me (ta rah rah boom-dee-ay). I do remember than when my grandmother became ill, my grandfather figured out that she had a tapeworm, which he had become familiar with in the trenches in France.

During the same visit with my mother, we found my grandmother Leah’s (Levine) medical and school records from the early 1900s. Somewhere in the house I have some military records from my father’s time at the end of World War II. There are old photos in boxes that I have which need to be sorted and labeled, and digitized. And speaking of digitizing, will anyone have physical memorabilia from the last 10 years or so?

I have moved many, many times during my adult life, so I became much more of a tosser than a keeper. If you asked me, I’d say I didn’t have much in the way of my own memorabilia, but that could be wrong. When I took out the little box to write this story, I saw that at the bottom of my office closet is sitting a larger beige box labeled MEMORABILIA. I don’t recall what’s in it, but this summer when I plan a pandemic staycation, it will be time to find out.


Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    How marvelous that you have those keepsakes of your grandfather’s from the “Great War”. Those are really cool and very interesting. I’m sure you could google some of the medals and find out a bit more, but just having them is really something. Interesting that he could diagnose your grandmother’s tapeworm. I’m sure he saw all sorts of horrors in the trenches. You were young when he died, so the don’t know the stories.

    My father served in WWII, had a difficult personal life, but I still didn’t think to ask him about it, until after he died, some 30 years ago now. We need to preserve family history as best we can. I’m so glad you have your memorabilia box.

    • Marian says:

      Now I am very glad I have some family history, Betsy. It’s too bad you don’t know more about your dad’s war experience, but many people didn’t talk about it. My father didn’t actually see combat. He was on a carrier headed to the Pacific when WW II ended, so he talked more about his experiences.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    A fascinating story, Marian, especially from an admitted “tosser.” And it sounds as if, by virtue of this discovery, this prompt and plenty of time this summer, you may end up becoming more of a “keeper.” Or at least more of a student of memorabilia.

  3. Wow Marian, how wonderful! For years I had my dad’s WWII dog tag in a jewelry box on MY dresser. At some point I remember giving it to my son and altho he’s not as organized as I am, I hope he’s keeling it safe!

    Of course things we keep may evoke bittersweet memories. Gifts my sister gave me sadly remind me of her tragic illness and death, but of course I treasure them. And then there are the sweet memories evoked by the bronzed baby shoes I just wrote about!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I love the collection of items from your grandfather, Marian. I have no idea what happened to my grandparents’ memorabilia except for the teacups and enormous, heavy tailor’s iron I inherited from my mother, and an old canister set that belonged to my paternal grandmother. I also have a box, now in the condo storage area, labeled “Memorabilia.” Like you, I have to find some quiet time to explore it. By the way, my family name on my father’s side was also Levine, although I was told that was not the original name in Europe.

    • Marian says:

      I’m glad my items were small, Laurie, because I think that kept some of them from being tossed. I do have some larger ones, and I especially like a salt box that was my maternal grandmother’s, because I have so little from her. I’m assuming my great-grandparents really were Levines, and I’m told that Levines were fair and often red-headed, so that fits. Who really knows?

  5. Lovely, touching story, Mare…and interesting that you have more memorabilia than you realized, and that now’s the perfect time to spend time with it thanks to the prompt and the pandemic. (Well, no thanks to the pandemic, but you know what I mean.) I like to think that our thoughtful consideration would bring a certain satisfaction, comfort, and even joy to those whose objects we cherish, if only they knew.

    • Marian says:

      I agree, Barb, that my relatives would be touched, if somewhat surprised and amused, to know what “ordinary” things have been kept. It’s comforting to have that meaning in our lives.

  6. To Barbara’s point, I think we’re as much “accidental collectors” as not. Case in point: my retrieval of the two boxes I mention in my story led me to go through my desk drawers. At the back of a file drawer I saw a looseleaf binder that’s been there forever. I decided to see if something was behind it. There was: the USC commencement program from 2011 when my son Tom got his MFA in film. I’m with you in more extensive “finding out”.

  7. Suzy says:

    I’m excited by your mention of the large beige box in your closet labeled “Memorabilia” and look forward to learning what you find when you have time to go through it. It’s lovely that you had such a wonderful afternoon with the contents of your grandfather’s box. I’m glad our prompt led to this result. While you may be more of a tosser than a keeper, your story makes keepers like me feel vindicated.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, you are vindicated, Suzy. I have to believe that the most meaningful items were meant to survive, whether one is a tosser or a keeper. It’s really cool how other people’s stories trigger more avenues to explore. What we manage to stumble upon.

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