My mother’s Hope chest said its final goodbye from the back of a Nissan Pathfinder stuffed in next to a dirty snow boot and a crumpled, Taco Bell takeout bag. It seemed an unceremonious parting if there is such a thing as properly letting go of your childhood at the age of 65. It was the last stick of furniture left since we said goodbye to her at 96 years of age and in a way, it was the most appropriate.
A woman bought it off an ad placed on Craigslist. I showed her to the room where the chest sat against a wall. “It’s beautiful,” she said leaning over and tracing its length with her fingertips. Her husband, a burly guy with a flannel shirt, seemed unimpressed.
“Yah,” I said feeling a catch in my throat as the realization of its imminent departure unexpectedly grabbed me.
“It’s time for it to go,” my wife had insisted for months. “There’s not enough room. We need space for the Twins.”
The Twins, our five-year-old grandkids Rory and Isla. No doubt it was a far better use of the space than what the chest now occupied. A changing of the guard I guess you could say. It was practical after all, we had no uses for a cedar chest outside of its occasional reminder of my childhood. Yet, it pulled at me pretty good when a buyer had come so quickly.
My mother was a character. You often hear talk of Catholic guilt; well, my mother could guilt-trip in her sleep. Yet, there I was having second thoughts about letting go of all those memories. I reflected looking at the chest that day about our last real conversation. “Mom?” I had asked, her hand in mine, “I hope you’ve been proud of me.”
“Oh yes,” she had whispered, her eyes milky and sad as a soft smile crossed her lips, “You could have stopped by more, though.” It was the evening of my Sixtieth Birthday that I saw the light fade from her eyes.
So I had held tight to that last bit of her. How the chests’ polished cedar brown exterior took me back to a time I rode my bike to the drugstore for candy, baseball cards flapping in the spokes. How when boredom was a constant companion, that cedar sarcophagus took me to imaginary worlds. A round metal button served as the latch and lock to the heavy lid that sealed in memories and kept out moths. There was a single, slim drawer at the bottom with a metal pull. Outside of that, it was a simple, unadorned chest. Inside the bottom was lined with green felt and the smell of cedar and secrets of lives once lived that washed over me with every opening. I had never seen the chest as a piece of furniture, but rather as a sort of vessel of memories and mementos.
It had little esthetic appeal, but it was all about what had been inside. A shaft of winter sunlight from the window crossed the bedroom, caressing the chest and casting an angled shadow. I pushed the button and raised the lid for one last look and the smell of my childhood spilled out and filled the room. The Nissan lady, her husband and I stood for a few seconds staring into its cavernous interior.
As a kid, I would search through the contents of that chest like an archeologist looking for signs of early life. The lives that led to mine. An army uniform, a summer dress, seashells, tortoise buttons, pictures and artifacts of my parent’s lives had been stored there. Things from Louisiana where my oldest sister died in childbirth in the midst of a war. Artifacts from my father’s service in New Guinea and the Philippines. The chest had moved across the country from Maryland by way of Louisiana, Southwest Washington and then on to Seattle it went. My baby shoes lived in that chest, pictures of long ago lived in that chest and I suppose that strictly speaking it was just stuff. After the funeral and the family house sold, my sister and I split up the furniture. I asked for the chest because to me it represented our family’s history.
It occupied a spot in the basement next to my mother’s Mangle iron and the dial telephone in the laundry room where my kids made prank phone calls. It sat there undisturbed for decades, its contents long forgotten, the old hope it once carried no longer needed as real life had taken its place.
“Will it fit in the back of the car?” the Nissan lady asked her husband.
He shrugged. “Let’s give it a try,” he said.
They picked it up carefully and began to carry it out. “It’s not too heavy,” she said as they negotiated the corner of the bedroom and into the hall and out the front door.
I could have disagreed. I could have said that to my mind it weight was heavy beyond words. Instead, “Looks as though it will fit,” I murmured, following along behind them.
The Cedar Hope Chest slid into the back of their vehicle with not a fraction of an inch to spare. It was destiny. “Here you go,” she said shutting the tailgate and handing me a wad twenties. Minutes later the Nissan, its windows fogged and smudged with fingerprints, was rolling down the driveway, and in it the last tangible piece of my family history with it. The sun peaked through a break in the clouds. Next door the neighbor boy bounced a basketball, the hollow ping echoing off the garage door. A breath of cold air brushed past my ear carrying the sadness of a final goodbye on it. It was the end of something for me. That last piece of my parents I had held onto for so long and so hard rolled away with it. My wife and I stood and watched as the Pathfinder turned the corner and disappeared from our sight.
“I didn’t think I would feel sad,” my wife said as the Nissan turned the corner. She had been ready to be rid of old memories and to make new ones. The cycle of life had once again rounded its own corner with the loss of that chest came eight ratty Jeffersons and a little more room for our grandkids.
We are told to simplify, declutter and live in the moment. It all makes sense until a woman in a Nissan takes your mother’s Cedar, Hope Chest. I will believe the chest found a good home. That it will be filled with its new owner’s fresh hopes. For our part, my wife and I need to put together twin beds with the hope we will begin to make new memories.
Kirk Boys’ fiction and non-fiction has been featured in two issues of Bio-stories, Gravel Magazine, The Chaos Journal, Storie 57/58, Per Contra, High Shelf Press, Flash Fiction Magazine, Thrice Fiction among others. He has a certificate in Literary Fiction. He lives outside Seattle with his wife and a tiny dog with a bum leg.