TITLE: Grandma's Trunk
By Arlene Showalter
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Impatiently, I struggle to move Grandma’s steamer trunk…again. After eighty-five years, the leather handles have long since rotted off, making any transfer awkward. Inwardly, I mutter against my brother, who insists on keeping the trunk in the family, but lacks storage space.
After a great deal of pushing and tugging, I stop for a break. My glance falls to the letters painted on the lid. ALA. Adelaide Leonora Angwin. At that moment, our shared blood transports me to her time.
Cornwall, England, 1922. Thirty-four year old Adelaide lifts a favorite print dress from its hanger, momentarily caressing the soft fabric against her cheek before placing it in her new steamer trunk. Straightening, her gaze drifts to nearby St. Michel’s Mount, framed by the open window. Suddenly, she is seventeen again, dashing home from a visit to the mount, daring the oncoming tide to cut off her return. Warm sand squishes through her toes as she flies along. The wind catches her laughter, tossing it high for the pleasure of screeching seagulls marking her progress.
Two days prior, she had met Andrew, her older brother’s friend. Andrew’s eyes spoke what his lips wouldn’t or couldn’t. Later that night a phone call confirmed her suspicions; he wanted to see her again.
Tonight, they’ll stroll together along the seawall after sharing tea with her family. Her impetuous race is a joy filled gamble that she can challenge the sea and win. Impossible to sit demurely and await his arrival, she must run, run, run until she has exhausted the tomboy in her and only proper young lady remains.
A lengthy courtship, marriage and a baby boy completed Adelaide’s life. Then the Great War came, forever changing the course of this happy little family. Her beloved husband returned from France wounded in body and spirit. He determined to put an ocean between war-devastated Europe and his family by relocating to America.
Adelaide reaches for her wedding portrait, ready to tuck it among her dresses. She pauses to examine the couple contentedly gazing back. Absently, her thumb strokes her husband’s face, up and down, up and down. A tear drops from her full eyes onto his merry ones. Ah, the blissful ignorance of that happy day, oblivious to approaching war drums.
I run my hand over those plain, white letters. ALA. What thoughts occupied Grandma as she lowered the lid, closing it on her familiar life in England, and knowing she would not to open it again until she reached America and her new life? How could Grandma pack her entire life into so little space? How could she select, discard, select and keep, realizing the finality of each decision? My mind mentally wanders through my own home. What would I take? What would I be forced be left behind? Could I possibly pack my whole life into one trunk?
Firmly, Adelaide lowers the lid of the trunk, its weight matching the heaviness of her own heart. She runs trembling fingers over the leather straps and handles. She sees her own life in the leather; nothing fancy yet strong and dependable. She touches the shiny brass lock and trimmings. Perhaps her future could be the same; new and bright? But can she find the courage to sacrifice familiar security for unknown adventure?
A new respect replaces former annoyance for my brave grandma and thousands of others like her who resolutely turned their backs on the old familiar life to step into an uncertain future with only one hope; giving their children a better life. They came to America, knowing they would probably never lay eyes on their homeland or loved ones again.
I finally tug the worn trunk to its new resting place. Even empty, this trunk is quite heavy, indicative of its sturdy construction; much like the sturdy constitution of the great lady who used it.
No longer do I grumble under my breath over this unwieldy nuisance. With respect, I pat the lid in thankfulness for my brave grandmother who so willingly sacrificed comfort for a distant dream. And I am only one of the many who have benefited from her courage. Thank you, Grandma.
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