Tuesday, July 5, 2011

That Cedar Chest

The dark yet comforting void that is a cedar chest...  Where objects go to be kept safe, secure and in the dark...

Several years ago my cousin and I had to move her mum into an assisted care facility. Her mother was not of sound mind and could not assist in any fashion when it came to sorting out her near 80 years' worth of possessions. We were on our own.  My cousin mentally and emotional locked up (as often happens to people when they simply cannot wrap their minds around the enormity of a task or event). So this packing up of her mother's life was left largely to me.

Now, mind you, "The Mother" did not have an actual cedar chest. But in a way, her apartment of roughly 26 years was one huge cedar chest. The Mother was old-school. If you pissed her off, you were "marked off her list". No more party invites for you! She was very crafty, artsy and an awesome cook/hostess. She turned simple lunches into a special event. She was much of my inspiration to travel, cook and entertain, yet I was not close to her. She seemed to drink a bit much and could get right cranky.  Over the years I started understanding why...

We went cabinet by cabinet and drawer by drawer. Pulling out, sorting, keeping or donating objects. Books, dishes, silver, china, jewelry, you name it...  There were oddities from assorted travels through the years. Books about various art, travel locations and historical events. Even clothing from back in the day! Mink and fox fur stoles!

At one point we reached the basement storage room. There is where it got interesting. No one had bothered to go through the stored items down there in years. Maybe not since they moved into the apartment after "The Father" passed when we were 7 years old.  What we found were photo albums from back pre-us-children era.

The photos showed "The Mother and Father" at the beach down in Alabama. They would spend a month or so in the summer at a beach house down there. I have no idea if they owned it at the time or simply rented it.  They would take kids from the family, as at the time they had none of their own, and introduce them to a different life. My family was by in large not well to do. So for kids to get to go on what amounted to a long vacation was a huge thing. I wish I had access to these photos to post here because they were so interesting as these were circumstances, situations and dress that I had never seen my adult elder cousins in. I remember Rena normally wearing dresses and skirts throughout my life and that was the same in the photos, but of course she was much younger and seemed so happy. "Doc", for the period of time I knew him, as he died when I was 7, was always in a bow-tie, dress slacks and an arrow collar shirt. In these photos he was lounging in chairs with a cigar, a low-ball glass and an undershirt.  Think 'wife beater' shirt. There were children playing in the sand in their cute little 'covers everything' swim suites.  The year had to be the 1950's.

We also found in one album a letter confirming a room reservation in an Atlanta hotel (I have long since forgotten the hotel name but seems it is still there near the stadium). Obviously there were no internet sites back then. And, apparently at this point the phone was still not the communication of choice in the south? The room confirmation was for a 2-twin-bed room costing something like $10 or so. They were going to watch baseball.

The twin bed deal was no shock. They slept in separate beds the whole time I knew them (5 out of the 7 first years of my life).

While we poured over the albums, it became clear why "The Mother" drank and would get cranky. By that time she had lived without the love of her life for maybe 27 years.  She missed him. She never got over losing him. She never dated. She did everything with her mother (until she passed) and her daughter.

We ended up stashing the mink and fox stoles we unearthed in my cousin's steamer trunk. The jewelry went into her jewelry box, furniture into her house in the basement and the silver (that came from OUR great grandparents) placed on cabinets.

Several months after The Mother passed, we were doing that age old ritual of getting ready to go out tramping as we called it. This actually means we were going to a nightclub to dance. We almost always had a new outfit each to wear.  Her mother used to help us get ready when we were younger. Critique our outfits, doll us up, take photos of us, keep us on task and on time. So, this night, as we ran around her house half (mostly) naked trying to get our outfits together, we pulled the furs out of the steamer trunk and we draped them around us and laughed hysterically.  We both thought how funny it would be when we were old and in a nursing home together. In our rooms would be these cedar chests and steamer trunks full of oddities from our parent's and grandparent's.  We would probably visit, and dawn, the stashes daily and race our wheelchairs down the institutional hallways - half naked (hopefully not mostly naked) wearing these furs, and costume jewelry.  All the while orderlies would probably chase after us.
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