Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: White (10/29/09)
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Temperatures soared into the 90’s on the day my grandmother, Angelica Rothschild, was buried in the family plot beneath a weeping willow tree that sagged with geriatric sympathy. I lingered at the gravesite, as did other family members, to watch her bodily remains descend into the depths of the earth – a dark and cool cavern of rest.
Before the memorial service, many people filed by to pay their respects while Grandma lay posed like a statuesque Eve, her white-white cheeks decorated with the mortician’s pom-poms of pink rouge. Grandma’s hands, like Snow White’s, bore witness of sacrificial service while her silvery hair, in a typical bun, sat on the top of her head like a white Jewish kippah.
Everyone knew Angelica by her authentic purity of character. As her granddaughter, I mourned the fact that I couldn’t have known her when she was younger – perhaps when she was my own age, a tender twenty-two still carving an adult identity.
Not long after the funeral, Mother and I ascended the steep stairs to Grandma’s attic. Natural light shone through two dormers on the front side of the house, its dust-laden shafts falling like eerie spotlights on a very dilapidated old trunk with peeling leather veneer. We opened the windows to allow summery fresh air to join us in the stale and stuffy attic, and relished its encouragement. This was going to be a long, tedious afternoon.
One by one we opened saggy boxes to discover motley contents: moth-eaten army blankets, smelly bed pillows full of mildewed feathers, bug-chewed magazines, assorted hardware from drawers and cupboard doors no longer in existence, and a whole army of threadbare towels waiting to be promoted as cleaning rags.
Finally we pulled open the latch of the old truck, and the lid's rusty hinge yawned with sleepy Rip Van Winkle creaks and groans. Inside lay neatly folded white bed linens, ones especially made to fit my grandparents’ odd-sized bed with its ornate, carved posts that reached several feet above the height of the mattress.
As we examined the trunk's contents and finally neared the bottom, I noticed something peeking from beneath the last folded sheet.
“Look – what’s that? A piece of paper?”
Mother pulled the paper corner, and an envelope emerged.
“It’s so old and weathered – and look, it has Angelica written on the front,” she replied with raised eyebrows.
We eagerly investigated, and two kid-leather, full-length white gloves also came to light on the trunk's floor.
Mother gingerly picked up the gloves and dangled the white fingers in the sunlight like two white doves that had risen from the dead and taken flight. She handed them to me, and I pulled one onto my right hand, working the leather carefully along the length of each finger. After much coaxing, the glove reached almost to my armpit. Tiny, delicate leather-covered buttons closed a gap at my wrist.
“Why would these gloves be hidden beneath the bed linens, Mom?” The envelope stared enticingly, daring us both to look inside. Carefully, so as not to rip the aging paper, Mother opened the brittle envelope and extracted a single sheet of stationery.
It is on this special night, our wedding night, that I present a gift as a symbol of your purity – which is a treasure beyond measure in my eyes. These elegant white gloves may well reappear on other romantic nights during our lifetime together, and yet we will never forget this one. May you wear these gloves with delight, remembering our first night together as husband and wife.
As I pulled the left glove onto my own hand and arm, I imagined Grandma modeling the gloves for Grandpa, and then later storing them - appropriately enough - with the white linens used on her marriage bed.
Mother’s eyes softened. “It’s almost as if your grandmother left these gloves just for you; they fit so perfectly, you know.” She stopped for a second, to make sure she would say what she meant. “Perhaps she wanted you to know that human life is sacred, and purity is an exemplary virtue. I think she would want you to keep these as your own, and your grandfather’s letter, too.”
I slowly removed and folded the white gloves as the sunbeams poured through the dormers, bathing us in refining light. Then I placed the envelope between them, and looked at my mother. “It’s Grandma’s legacy.” I whispered. “Pure … white.”
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