I stepped into the attic with a box in each hand. My wife insisted that I be the one to pack up the attic while she did the kitchen.
“You'd have a better idea of what to keep and what is just junk, Steve,” she said.
I sighed dramatically and set down the boxes. Karen laughed as she went back downstairs.
I smiled and shook my head. My mother had been a pack rat, and the attic reflected that. Now that she was gone, Karen and I planned to sell her house. Before we could, though, we needed to pack up all her things. The attic was full of broken-down furniture, old lamps, various knick-knacks, and boxes of her life.
Two hours and five boxes later, I saw an old quilt covering what appeared to be yet another box. I pulled it off and shook it out. When the dust settled, to my surprise, I saw an old hope chest. I didn’t remember seeing it before. The simple wooden chest had with a set of initials carved into the lid - my mother's initials.
I lifted the lid, expecting only a few mothballs. I found a soft blanket resting on top of some other things. I pulled the blanket off and found more blankets, cloth diapers, baby gowns, and a few pairs of small booties. I took all of it out and laid it carefully on the old quilt. At the bottom of the chest, a pair of baby shoes rested on another wooden box. The shoes looked brand new, yet old-fashioned. I lifted them out and held them in my hand. They were so small, and for a brief moment I remembered when my own children were that small. Gently, I placed the shoes on the quilt.
The small wooden box was elaborately carved with vines and flowers. I pressed the latch and opened the lid. An old photograph and a bundle of letters lay inside. I picked up the photo and looked at a picture of my much younger mother. She looked so beautiful. She sat in a chair holding a newborn baby, and a small boy stood next to her gazing at the infant. With a start, I realized that the small boy was me. I flipped it over, and in my mother’s handwriting were the words “Steve, Baby Robert, and myself – May 1960.”
Baby Robert? I set the photograph down and picked up the letters. The top one was dated May 23, 1960. I opened it and read:
“Oh, how I miss you already! Your father and I only had you for a few short days, yet in those days you made us so happy. When I remember your sweet face and how your eyes gazed into mine, it is more than I can bear. The Good Lord took you from us far too soon, but I know that you would have been miserable in this life. You were born so small and even as I held you, I knew that I wouldn’t have you for long. I thank God that we had that time to say good-bye to you. Your big brother, Steve, was so excited when you were born! He had great plans for the two of you. I will try to explain it to him, yet I fear he won’t understand. Perhaps someday he will. You will grow strong in the presence of the Lord. We will see you soon.
Stunned, I sat back with the letter still in my hand. I had a brother. I didn’t remember him. I looked at the other letters. My mother had written to Robert every year. As I read them, tears flowed from my eyes from both laughter and sorrow.
By the time I finished, the sun had set. I placed the letters and the photograph back in the small box and set it aside. I started to put all the baby things back in the chest, but stopped when I picked up the shoes. With a smile, I placed them on the small box, and finished packing up the chest.
My wife was sitting at the dining room table drinking a cup of coffee while she waited for me. I placed the small box and the shoes before her and sat down. Karen picked up the shoes and asked, “Are these yours?”
“No,” I replied.
“Whose are they?”
With a smile, I looked at her and said, “My brother’s.”
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