My family doesn't have many heirlooms. Not in the traditional sense. We have stories and legends and inside jokes. We have loud laughs and good hugs and lots of scripture and poetry and axioms memorized and available at a moment's notice. But when it comes to Great-Grandma's sterling or Sister's breakfront, you will have to look elsewhere.
When I moved out of the trailer and into Sandhill I didn't, then, have a lot of furniture. As sweet a home as it had been for six years, the trailer was not furnished, with the exception of a pine end table I'd bought on sale at Macy's, with anything I wanted to take with me. I bought a bed, a nightstand, and a couch from L.A. Waters Furniture and figured I'd fill the rest of the rooms as I found things I liked.
About the time I moved in, Mama suggested that I take her cedar chest. She didn't give it to me, but, rather sheepishly, asked if I'd like to have it. It had been the object of much covetousness as I grew up and was, occasionally, allowed to go through its contents -- the wedding dress she didn't wear when she and Daddy decided to elope, the tiny yellow satin housecoat that had been mine as a baby, her high school scrapbook, and the blue satin-covered baby book in which she had written every milestone of the first six years of my life.
The story behind the chest was as fascinating to me as its contents. Mama had purchased it when she was a working girl in Savannah and living at the YWCA. She'd left her tiny little hometown after she graduated from Collins High School and moved to Savannah to take a job as a telephone operator with Southern Bell. My favorite phone call stories were the ones involving lonely soldiers at Hunter Army Air Field who would ring up the operators just to have someone with whom to talk.
Once, when I was about 10 or 12, we went to Savannah and, for some bewildering reason, found ourselves walking down Whitaker Street after dark. Mama pointed out the Y to me and told me how, when she worked the night shift at Southern Bell, she had walked home alone, under the Spanish moss-draped trees, down the cracked sidewalks, past a funeral home. I was amazed at her bravery. I saw adventure and fearlessness in the woman in whom I'd only ever seen duty and protectiveness. She had, amazingly, once been young and carefree.
She had also been imagining another life, the life of wife and mother, and toward that end she saved up enough money to buy a hope chest, the very same Lane cedar chest that was such a treasure trove for the daughter she would one day have.
So, of course, I'd like to have it. And in the back of Daddy's pick-up it made the very short journey from their house to mine, a testament to Mama's youth, a symbol of my adulthood.
Today the chest sits at the foot of my bed. It bears the smell of cedar, a stamp listing the patent numbers given to the Lane Company, and a couple of short red Magic Marker strokes made by one of the many children who have knelt at the chest with paper and pen to draw a picture. It holds the quilt made for me by Mama and Grannie, a crocheted bedspread that Mama started when I was a small child and finished when I was 35, the American flag jacket given to me when I was chosen to carry the Olympic Torch in 1996, and the quilt I started (but never finished) in college.
Scratched, faded, and watermarked, it is a container for memories, not the least of which are memories of the woman my mother used to be.