Friday, March 16, 2012

The Hope Chest

My dog was a bad boy.  For some reason, and I am sure it is due to incorrect training, he "marks" certain areas when he is left alone without he feels real cause.  I work out every weekday morning and he is fine, but if I leave again for most reasons he will find something to lift his leg against, especially if its in our bedroom.  On days like today, he about drives me to drink.  I went for a short bike ride to enjoy the beautiful, unreal spring weather.  I forgot to shut the bedroom door.  After I returned I was cleaning the upstairs bathroom when I decided since I had the vacuum out to do the bedroom carpet.  Just because it doesn't show black dog fur like my almond bathroom does, doesn't mean its not there.  While hustling to get it done, I found the tell tale yellow spots on the carpet under my grandma's hope chest. 

I quickly got out the mini carpet cleaner and got the carpet cleaned up.  Upon further examination because with a male dog, "it" doesn't go straight down, I found some spots on the chest.  I cleaned them off and then decided a good lemon oil rubbing was in line.  After I had brought out the lovely woods used in this chest I opened it and drank in that wonderful cedar aroma that takes me back to the funniest of places....Souvenir shops by my grandparents cottage at Sand Lake.  They always featured cedar plaques and gifts and the stores were redolent of the smell of cedar.  I wanted every little gift-y souvenir I saw back then.  And once when we went on a trip to Wisconsin, I bought a small cedar box emblazoned with Mackinaw City on its top.  Oh the I gazed into that chest.

When my grandmother died rather unexpectedly, twenty days short of her 81st birthday, we were all in shock.  Grandpa just tried to negotiate his way without her, but it was like a spring was broken inside of him.  When he passed away four years later in 1999, it was immensely sad, but in a way very comforting as we knew he was in Heaven with Grandma and all he loved.  My mom and her 3 siblings arranged to have a house auction quickly and then put their house up for sale.  In cleaning the house and going through the items to be auctioned, they found a list Grandma had made.  The list contained items she wanted each of her grandchildren to have.  After the kids went through the list they realized Grandma hadn't quite been equal in what she wanted given to each grandchild.  So the children decided to put the items all in the auction and if the grandchild wanted the designated item, they could bid on it.  Many of the grandkids didn't care what had been wished for them, but I was curious.  I am the eldest grandchild, and always thought my grandma and grandpa were about perfect.  When I asked my mom what Grandma had wanted me to have, she said a walnut chest.  For the life of me, I couldn't remember this chest even when my mom told me where it had set in Grandma's house.  So, I had to go over and take a look at it.  As soon as I saw it, I remembered it, but would not have thought much of it.  The finish had darkened over the years and it looked more like ugly mahogany than walnut.  But Mom told me it was cedar inside and they believed it was a hope chest.  That made a difference, but I still thought the chest looked ugly on the outside.

As the day for the auction approached I looked at the chest a few more times.  It kind of grew on me, but what I really wanted from the auction was a straw boater hat, Grandpa had worn courting Grandma.  Grandma had shown it to me once and I fell in love with the hat and the story.  The day of the auction, Mom whispered to me to bid on the chest because she was sure it was walnut and could be refinished and on the inside was a birthday card from 1932.  Grandpa had given Grandma the hope chest for her 19th birthday in March.  They were married a little over a month later.  The birthday card with the chest had been saved by Grandma all those years.  Mom said they took the card out but if I bought the chest she would give me the card.  It wasn't easy as the hat I wanted was prized by another relative, and I paid dearly for it, and the chest was bid up by my mom's sister.  But I bought both.   I wasn't too sure how smart I was, but back then tradition and "family" pieces meant a great deal to me.

I set about refinishing the chest that summer.  My mom was right.  It refinished beautifully and after the dark finish was removed there was the gorgeous walnut my mom spoke of.  There was also inlaid maple decorative motifs on it.  And when you opened the chest came that tantalizing smell of childhood, the lake and cottage, and summer.  The smell of cedar.  I put the chest in our bedroom and despite our matched bedroom set being oak, it fit as quality old pieces quite often do. Over the years I added things to it.  A child's derby hat found in the walls of our house when we tore down some plaster in remodeling.  Two German Bibles that were my grandparents confirmation Bibles, though neither of them spoke German to my remembering.  Some letters of my grandpa my mom had found and made copies of, along with some pictures of she and her brothers at a young age.  I added my own children's things as they grew.  A baby plate bought for one of the children.  School pictures and newspaper clippings from their sports adventures.  The striped socks I had on when Ryan was born.  I was cold in the delivery room and the nurse said I could leave my socks on.  They were red and blue striped and every time I saw them thereafter I smiled, until I put them in the chest.  I have no notion of why, but because I could. 

Lastly was a journal of sorts I had kept at another bad time in my life.  A dozen years ago and it was one of the darkest winter's I remember, and funny thing there was no real cause for it now.  In retrospect it seems silly as compared to some of what went on these past two winters.  But what I read didn't seem all that silly and took me back to what I was feeling and why writing was an outlet for me.  I hope that a dozen years from now if the Good Lord sees fit to keep me around, that what I am experiencing today will seem just as silly, but the writing just as insightful.

So my dog was a bad dog, but if I had not to clean up a mess, I wouldn't have stopped to open my hope chest.  I wouldn't have smelled the enticing smell of cedar, have remembered all the good times, and imagined all the hope my grandma put into that chest as she prepared for a marriage that would last over 65 years. Hope seemed to be in short supply of late.  It seemed more to be a time of endurance, and just trying to stay afloat.  There were times of endurance in my grandparent's lives and in my parent's. I was reminded that I am part of my larger family who's roots run deep in this area.  I have tradition and things of my family I still care about, even though I have learned I am not tied to this place with roots so deep, I can't be transplanted.  I am more than the sum parts of what is visible now, and still have ways to grow beyond this day.  I am so grateful for those who went before me, loved me and gave me wisdom.  I hope my grandchildren will feel the same some day.   Its funny how a hope chest and a bad dog, equaled a bad day, then a very good day; a day of hope....and that's a tremendous thing.   

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