Today the trash people came and took away my hope chest. Luckily I was not there to see it. Kris was. He said they had to bust it up to dump it in the garbage truck.
I guess I knew it couldn’t be saved when I insisted on pulling it out of the house during salvage. None of the guys, God bless ‘em, had the heart to tell me to leave it. They silently unscrewed the hinges so I could pull out all my soaked and molding homemade sweaters (another sentimental keepsake, Lord knows I never needed them in Louisiana), and let me load it on the truck, even though it took up a ridiculous amount of space. We paid to store it, then drag it across the country, and my husband never said a word. Finally this weekend, I had Charles help me drag it out to the curb in a sudden last-minute decision before he and Bambi left to go home, and I tried not to look at it, sitting forlorn and peeling, next to the mailbox to be picked up and consigned to the landfill.
The chest was my last tangible link to my grandmother. It was hers when she got married in 1942 – a real Lane cedar chest, with beautiful mahogany veneer. It was a perfect example of 1940′s furniture – heavy and sleek. It went from my grandmother, to my mother to me, and still had the original dated “moth insurance” tag affixed to the inside of the lid. I loved it. It fit my grandmother to a T.
She herself was almost an icon. Tall ,lean, and redheaded, and impossibly tanned for being so, she was the image of the 1940′s “We can do it” woman worker poster. Everyone in the neighborhood called her “Toots”, even her grandchildren. I can still see her with her halter top and shorts, sunning on a chaise, cigarette in her long red laquered fingernails. She had a big voice, a big laugh, big hair, and a biting sense of humor. She was a woman of bold patterns, and bolder jewelry. She filled every room she entered, and everybody at the local beauty salon knew her and her unerring sense of style. I adored her.
The counterpoint she played to my grandfather was complete. Miserly in his affection, taciturn and dark, their relationship mystified. I remember her slipping us a fiver as children with a wink – “Don’t tell your Grandfather”. She loved life, and it loved her. I think he was rather a moth to her flame, but her dedication to him never waivered.
She literally dropped dead shortly after my first marriage, suffering a massive aneurysm while walking down the staircase. She was braindead before she ever hit the floor. It took her body a couple more agonizing days to catch up. She was buried on Easter Sunday in Rochester. I remember it snowed. And she was gone.
To someone who has lost everything, I will never again say “They are only things. You have what’s important”. First, it’s trite, and it’s dismissive of a person’s loss. And sometimes things are not things. That chest was a love song from my grandmother to my mother to me. It was hope in a box. Not just for one life, but for all the lives that will come and go in its wake. It is faith that something will remain when you are gone.
I miss that chest. I miss her.