Peter Edge sat down beside me, clicked opened the latches of the tan suitcase and raised its lid. A stale whiff of old papers floated out. It was a scent of a biographical treasure.
Inside the suitcase—which had belonged to Rosalie Edge--were fat manila packets dated in Peter’s writing noting the time span of the personal letters within each. He handled the packets gingerly and took out a few letters from one of them to show me.
He lifted out the typed manuscript of his mother’s unpublished memoir “Implacable Widow.” He noted the photocopies he had made of family genealogies drawn in the fine penmanship of his grandfather John Wylie Barrow in the 1870s, and gently picked up a flaking brown leather notebook in which Mabel Rosalie had written down her wedding gifts in 1909. He let me leaf through the notebooks in which his mother had kept her bird lists beginning in 1922 but decided he could not part with them. Peter said that in the 30 years since his mother’s death he had read many of the letters. He was not sure they would be “of any interest” to me.
After so much unrestricted generosity he did, however, make one stipulation. “My mother was very proud of the fact that Charles Dickens was her cousin. She insisted that a story be told well,” he said. “I assume she would have felt that way about her own. So bear in mind something she used to often say: ‘Never let the truth spoil a good story.’ ”