Wednesday, March 30, 2016

An Old Tale, An Old Hope Chest #SOL16 Day 30

When my grandparents moved from Reinmiller Road, an idyllic wooden country setting, to Pitcher Street, an industrial neighborhood, in Joplin, Missouri, my grandfather insisted on purchasing a home with a shop so he could "tinker." 

Had grandpa had his way, he and Phoebe, my grandmother, would have lived in the red house overlooking the chicken coop and forest until they died. But grandma wanted to live in town, ostensibly to be closer to stores, even though she never learned to drive. And grandma nagged and pestered grandpa until he agreed to move. 

I loved spending the night with my grandparents. Mostly I loved observing my quiet grandfather in his shop. Grandpa meticulously organized his tinkering tools, and even though the shop was the size of many homes, Grandpa lined the walls with work benches and the walls with tools. One wall housed drills and drill bits, another bands and pulleys, another multiple sets of screwdrivers, wrenches, and awls. 

Throughout the garage grandpa had table saws, hand saws, saw horses, planers, sanders, and every other tool a tinkerer might want. Each tool had a place, and grandpa kept everything tidy and organized. 

Frequently, one of grandpa's four living sons would borrow a saw or hammer or mower. Frequently, strange men visited grandpa. I'd see him take out a clipboard and scribble notes and sketches. Then he'd quote a price and a delivery date. Only later did I realize that grandpa was running a side businesses making farm equipment. Specifically, he'd construct cage-like structures that fit on the back of pickup trucks; these allowed his customers to haul animals in the beds of their trucks. 

The garage was a quiet place. Grandpa didn't talk much. I sat and watched him work, intrigued by his skill and knowledge. 

Often grandpa made tables and chests, lovely hand-crafted pieces of fine furniture. He made a round pedestal table for my Aunt Linda. I watched him cut each piece of wood and lovingly caress its grain. I longed to have grandpa make something for me. But I was raised to accept what was offered and not ask for anything. 

One day grandpa began working on a piece of furniture crafted from golden oak. The wood shone, and I asked grandpa many questions. "Who is it for?" "What is it?" He only responded, "Oh, it's a little something I'm making for someone." His cryptic responses held a secret. 

As work progressed on the golden box, I watched the piece evolve from a concept to a finished item awaiting sanding and staining. Grandpa asked me what colors I liked when he selected the stain. 

I hoped one day grandpa would make a chest for me. 

That Christmas we sat in grandpa's and grandma's living room on Pitcher Street. Grandpa rose from his recliner and walked out the back door. He returned a few minutes later with the golden chest. He moved the chest into the room and left it by his chair. 

"Here you go," he said looking at me. 

I had longed for, prayed for, hoped for the chest. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I hugged my grandfather. He patted me on the back and made quiet grandpa sounds. "It was your dad's idea," he said as though he had nothing to do with the tinkering that produced my magnificent hope chest. 

I opened the lid and read the inscription: 
Many years have passed since that Christmas of 1970, but I still have the chest. It occupies a space in my bedroom where I see it every day. Although I'd never choose a piece of country furniture for my home now, I can't bring myself to alter the chest. The hinges and finish are all original, but time has faded the coloring and perhaps colored my memories, too. 
I never used the chest for its traditional purpose: collecting household items in hopes of marrying. Instead, I have stored various papers and projects in it. In that sense, it's more of a keepsake box than a utilitarian domestic object. 

When I think about collecting and storing objects and memories, A passage from Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner speaks to me: 

We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales, we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable...


12 comments:

  1. This is a great example of an object as inspiration for a lovely story. A great story, a great slice of life.

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  2. Wow, what a lovely memory! The hope chest is just beautiful! A talented man your grandpa!

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    1. Thank you. Yes, grandpa was talented and smart, although he had only an eighth grade education. He was a voracious reader, too.

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  3. What a wonderful story and memory. The chest is beautiful. How lucky you are to have something made by your grandfather.

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    1. Thank you! I am lucky as I'm the only granddaughter for whom my grandfather made anything. I also have a Duncan Fife drop leaf table he restored and gave to me. That one really caused a stink among some of his children who wanted it.

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  4. Oh, this made me cry! I love the hope chest, and how meaningful it is to have something handcrafted by your grandpa! As you know, I just adore my grandparents, and I really connected to this piece.

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    1. I'm glad you liked it, Dana. I do know how much you love your grandparents. I've wanted to write about my hope chest for a long time. I wanted to do a better job w/ the post, but I can revise. I was really pressed for time on this one.

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  6. I had a grandpa like that Glenda, and now I am a grandpa, and I have a granddaughter, and I bet I could win her heart forever if I made her a hope chest like that. What a great story! Especially his quiet, self-effacing manner, which you have captured so well.

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    1. I have a granddaughter, too, and wish I could teach her to make things, but I didn't get the importance of learning while watching.

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  7. Glenda, the memories poured out from your simple story of a Grandfather's love for his grandchild. Your story led in beautifully to the passage at the end of the piece. Let's continue chatting in the Tuesday SOLs.

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  8. Having a piece of furniture with a story attached is something to be treasured - I love that it has the date and names written inside - a true heirloom. By my bedside stands a tiny chair made by my dad for me as a two year old using a few simple tools on the kitchen table in their tiny London flat - not much to look at but for me priceless :) Special Teaching at Pempi’s Palace

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