Sunday, December 10, 2006


As a little girl, weekend trips to my granny’s house were like traveling to wonderland. After my grandfather’s death, my granny lived with her older sister. The two women were like night and day. Granny was the free spirit who allowed you to stay up until the wee hours of the morning watching horror movies while snacking on chocolate cake and popcorn. Granny always prepared my favorite foods, and with her, there was only one rule: Break all the rules!

Her older sister, Aunt Janie, was the conservative sibling with many rules and regulations. She took me to church on Sunday mornings and insisted I sit through Sunday school. She dictated bath times, insisted at least one vegetable (usually collard greens) be consumed during a visit and dolled out punishment if she deemed such necessary. Aunt Janie taught me how to play bidwhist. Granny taught me how to play poker. Aunt Janie taught me proper etiquette. Granny taught me flirting skills. They balanced each other nicely and I have fond memories of the time I spent with the two of them together. Together they were a good time and whole lot of laughter.

One of my fondest memories of Aunt Janie was an old cedar chest that sat at the foot of her twin bed. It had been my great-great-grandmother’s chest and had been passed down from one eldest daughter to another. Aunt Janie had inherited it from her mother but she had no daughters of her own to pass it along to, having birthed two sons. Aunt Janie had let us play in that chest when we were small. I vividly remember peeking through its contents as she told me stories about her many treasures and there had even been a game or two of hide-and-seek played inside.

Years ago when Aunt Janie passed away I asked her son for that chest and had been denied. Needless to say I was disappointed, but I understood his wanting to hold on to it. It had much sentimental value to us all. Just over a month ago, out of the blue, her son called to ask if I still wanted the chest. He’d finally been able to find his way through sorting its contents and he wanted me to have it. I was ecstatic. To say I rushed to pick it up is an understatement, but I didn’t want to risk him changing his mind. When I arrived not only was I finally bequeathed the chest, very battered and bruised, but an array of its contents as well.

Inside, her son had found an envelope with my name on it. Inside the envelope were three pieces of jewelry. One was a beautiful cross of diamonds and sapphires that I’m told her son had gifted to her many Mother’s Days ago. The second was a silver cross, inlaid against a mother-of-pearl charm with the word Jerusalem engraved on the back, and the last, a well-worn piece of costume jewelry with much of the cut glass missing. The envelope also held my high school graduation program and an array of news articles that had marked my many accomplishments as I’d gone from childhood to adulthood. And although he did not give them back to me, her son said that he found every single holiday card I, and everyone else, had ever given her over her many years.

I had wanted to ask him about her bible but I didn’t. I remember her bible, a much read, leather-bound book that had been stored inside that chest. What I remember most about it was a photograph of a very handsome man that had been hidden between its pages. I had asked her once about him and had been admonished to stay out of grown folks’ business as she’d snatched picture and bible from my hands. She never revealed his name or their story and to this day the details of her secret have never been shared. I have often imagined the story between them, fantasizing a tale of love and seduction and, of course, a broken heart.

Immediately after receiving the chest I arranged to have it restored to its original beauty and yesterday, they returned it to me. It has been chilling to walk into my bedroom to see it sitting at the foot of my bed, looking exactly like it had looked back in the days of my youth. I can actually feel the story it wants to tell but the words have yet to come.

I have already begun to tuck my own buried treasure inside. I imagine the day my children will sort through its contents, knowing the history of some of it, wondering curiously about the rest. I can only imagine the stories they will spin about Aunt Janie, and me, and the mothers who had it before us. I marvel at the tales of history the chest will share about us all.

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