What We Keep
I am the only daughter of an only daughter. For this reason, I have inherited many precious items: jewelry, china, crystal and antiques. I now own the century old hope chest that had belonged to my dear granny since she was a girl. My mother was sitting on that hope chest the day she met my father.
Mom’s older brother had a new friend named Bill. When Bill saw Marge sitting on the hope chest, he flipped her necklace, a delicate cross with a diamond at the center, and said “Hi there, little girl.” She was only two years younger than he, so she felt insulted but also excited. More than that chest she sat on was full of hope.
When Granny and my grandfather moved to the countryside north of Detroit, she painted her hand-carved hope chest. Her parents had bought it new for her for her trousseau and now, fifty years later, it had pride of place in her foyer. In 1965, Granny remade her chest in a new “antique” style finish. I loved the swirly ornate style of the chest and the way Granny’s paint glinted with hints of gold over the decorative façade.
The hope chest was the first thing my mom gifted to me as she began the process of clearing away a lifetime of things Granny had collected. Next came the china, then the crystal, and the jewelry. My mother is not a collector of fine things, but Granny was, and I am, too.
Now, as my husband and I plan a permanent move to Florida, we talk about what to keep, what to give away. Of course we’ll keep our family photos and my first edition book collection. He’ll want his tools, but will likely pare down his collection of a hundred or so baseball caps. We’ll sell or give away the furniture.
Thinking about our lovely furniture, collected over many years, piece by precious piece, gave me pause. My china cabinet. My favorite chair. My writing desk. Our lux king-sized bed. Yes, I could let it all go. Everything except Granny’s hope chest, which holds more than just things. It holds the story of who I am, how I came to be, and the ones who came before me.
I’m a grandmother now. My grandsons call me Granny. My granddaughter, not even a year old, hasn’t yet called me by any name. When I think of the future, into a world my grandchildren will inhabit long after I’m gone, I wonder if she will keep something of mine, if she’ll say “this was my granny’s.” Perhaps she’ll even say “and her granny’s before that.”