“Fynn! What are you doing in the attic?” my grandmother Susanna Bennett Colwell hollered from the bottom of the narrow staircase.
I leaned over the edge, held up an old piece of yellowed paper, and answered, “Nothing. Just going through some old junk. I found this.” I waved the fragile paper at her. “It looks like a survey or something.”
“Bring it here, and let me see,” Eamon Colwell ordered as he put an arm around his wife’s waist. “I’ve been meaning to clear out those trunks before they start the house on fire.”
“I’ve waited forty years for you to finish what we started when we moved in. I suppose it can wait a while longer,” she answered.
I tromped down the stairs with the paper in my hand. I picked out a cat’s eye from the old New & True coffee can Grandma used to store the collection of playing marbles and stuffed it in my pocket.
Grandma shook her head, but didn’t say anything.
“I found this in the trunk by the chimney. It looks like an old survey of someplace. It’s not this farm, is it?”
Granda took the paper and studied it.
“Do you know anything about it?” I asked.
“Come with me. We can sit in the parlor, and I’ll tell you what I know about this old survey.”
I followed him. He picked up the Sunday paper from his rocking chair and tossed it onto the small table next to it. He sat and began rocking while staring at the survey.
“I’m surprised it’s still in this good of shape,” he whispered.
“What’s it supposed to be?” I asked impatiently.
After a moment, Granda held out the paper so I could read it. “Do you see this part?”
I leaned closer. “Sure! It says Vandalia, Illinois. That’s where you used to live, right?”
“A long time ago,” he answered. “I don’t think there’s much of it left now. The farm, I mean. Not the town. Maybe some of the foundations, but not much else.”
“Is that where Bone lived?” I asked. Breccan “Bone” Colwell was my great-great grandfather.
“He lived there after he got married. He bought the farm from a lawyer named John Todd Stuart,” Granda said with a wry smile. “This is the official survey he requested. It was signed by the surveyor, but the name is smudged and almost illegible.”
“Should I throw it away since it’s so old and the farm isn’t even there anymore?” I asked taking the survey from Granda.
He shook his head. “No, I think we should hang on to it.” He shrugged and added, “Who knows? It might be worth something someday.”
“Okay.” I looked at the survey again. “Is that the whole story? The way you’re smiling makes me think you’re holding something back.”
“Eamon! Tell the lad the whole story,” Grandma insisted as she adjusted her white apron.
“Give me a minute, please,” he replied. “Okay. When I was a young man, Bone told me about the day he purchased the farm. He had to travel to Springfield, meet the seller and sign the legal papers. There was another man in the office who was introduced to Bone as the surveyor without revealing his name. Bone told me about the man and how rough he appeared.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Bone said the man was tall, gawky and not very handsome, but his eyes displayed intelligence. After everything was signed, he shook hands with Mr. Stuart and the man who did the survey. He thanked them and turned to leave. He overheard the surveyor tell Mr. Stuart in a rather unexpected high, squeaky voice, ‘I need to get back to my law studies if I ever want to become more than a simple surveyor.’”
I stared at the survey again. Thoroughly confused. Granda continued to smile.
“Do you think the surveyor ever became a lawyer? Did he ever amount to anything? Would I recognize his name?”
Granda beamed and replied, “Oh, I think you might have heard the name once or twice. Mr. Lincoln did all right for himself.”