The letter in the basement

Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Iowa:

One of the things that I do when I come to the farm is tiptoe around the basement and peek into drawers. The ancient trunks are so fragile that I don’t dare disturb them, but I look at the children’s toys from the 1950s, and crack open one or two of the books on the shelves.

USSR, the story of Soviet Russia, printed in 1944, has the mysterious inscription on the front page: “to Melchior, who once took a mote from mine eye.”

There’s a cigar box at least 50 years old that I discover contains nothing but chalk sticks and sawdust. I find a paint box with crumpled-up envelopes folded inside to protect things. I unfold one and gold paint dust comes off on my hands, and I can read the spidery writing, postmarked 1923.

I think my favorite thing I ever found in this basement was a memo my grandfather wrote when he married my grandmother. It was addressed to his geophysics company, and to the best of my memory, went something like this:

“To seismologists, computers:

“May it be known that John N. Botkin disappeared the morning of —, and turned up irrevocably married to one Halcyon Heline, a farm girl from Iowa.”