A Year of Gifts
I was lucky to grow up in a small town with my grandparents close by. One set lived on a farm outside the city limits, the others lived near my grade school. I’d often walk there after class, and enjoy Grandma’s sugar cookies and a card game while waiting for my parents to pick me up.
My grandparents were an integral part of our lives, and we never celebrated a holiday without them. I remember plenty of home-cooked meals, afternoons spent visiting on the front porch and even one disastrous rollover on a three-wheeler with my big cousin. Luckily we were climbing sand dunes at the gravel pit my grandfather operated. If we’d been on any other surface, that accident could have been life-altering!
My grandparents are all gone now, and honestly, I most often reflect on times spent with my grandmothers. They were strong, loving women, and I know I owe much of my dedication to family to the examples they set while I was growing up. But my grandfathers played important roles as well.
Dad’s father died when I was in the third grade, so my memories of him are limited. I remember the awful phone call when he passed and attending his funeral. I suspect it was my first and I’ve never forgotten it. Mom’s father was part of my life for many more years. Grandpa Les lived long enough to meet our son. I only wish they’d had more than a few years together.
Last week, I decided to set out a few fall decorations around the house, something I hadn’t bothered to do over the past few years. As I dug through the tub of decorations, my hand fell upon a frame. My breath caught as I turned it over, and my eyes read my grandfather’s poem. How could I have forgotten about this?
I’d never known Grandpa to be a writer. An avid golfer, yes, but never a writer. It wasn’t until years after he was gone and Mom gave us framed copies of a poem he’d written that I realized there were facets to the man I’d never known. I guess I’m not the only writer in the family!
All nature is arranged in gayest tint
Of yellow, red, and golden brown. O’er all,
A sky of light, clear blue which tells of fall
Approaching near, with wintry blasts of flint.
The parks, the trees, now yield their summer bloom
To more sedate and somber hues of gold.
The air, so clean and crisp, has told and told
Its tale of autumn and summer’s doom;
Is it for us to challenge nature’s change,
To wonder why it must be so? Or is
It in the hands of Someone more supreme
To make the world seem lovely, wild and strange?
We know that in the winter we will miss
The tranquil beauty of that autumn scene.
Can you picture a crisp autumn day, feel the tease of a soft breeze on your face, and smell the leaves as you read my grandfather’s words? I wish I knew when he wrote this. Was he a young man, perhaps in school, or sitting on the very same front porch that would become the setting for so many of my memories? I’ll never know for sure.
I placed Grandpa’s poem in the front bay window, then turned to set a ceramic pumpkin on the hope chest behind me. My mind flooded with the story behind this very special piece of furniture. Here again was another reminder of Grandpa.
Grandpa Les gave this hope chest to my grandmother as a gift. I think Grandma told me he gave it to her for her high school graduation, and if I'm remembering it right, nearly one hundred years have passed since Grandma graduated. By the time I discovered this chest, it had been relegated to their basement, cast-off and nearly forgotten.
So how did it end up in my living room?
Labor Day weekend festivities for our family always include an annual golf tournament back in our hometown. One year, when I was in college, I ran over to my grandparent’s house to see Grandma. Most everyone else was at the course, either playing or watching golf, but I don’t ever remember Grandma going out there. I couldn’t find her that day when I stopped by (I think she’d gone to visit a neighbor). I checked all over the house for her, even going down to the basement. I can still picture that crumbly old basement. One had to be careful on the stairs, and it had a smell all its own.
That particular day, for some reason, I noticed an old chest in the corner. I’d never paid any attention to it in the past, although it had probably been down there since before I was born. I was living in an apartment at the time, and likely looking to furnish it. The old chest was dark in color, nearly black, and the beautiful carvings on the front were barely discernible. But I suspected it had been beautiful before age had taken its toll.
Did I dare ask Grandma or Grandpa if I could have the chest? I was excited at the prospect of trying to refinish it but nervous to ask. I still remember Grandma’s shocked face when I asked her later that evening. She couldn’t understand why in the world I wanted that old piece of junk. But with her blessing, my then-boyfriend (now husband) helped me wrestle it out of that old basement and take it over to his mom’s house where we’d undertake our first-ever refinishing job.
This is one piece of furniture I plan to keep forever. My grandfather could never have guessed where it would end up a century after he gave it to his young girlfriend.
The hope chest is more than just a pretty piece, sitting in our living room. It contains countless treasures from my first fifty years on this earth. There are also items I saved while cleaning out my grandparent's things when they transitioned out of their homes. I need only to open the top to see a dizzying array of history.
There is no order to the jumble of precious items in my hope chest. The items listed above are only the top couple of layers. I know more treasures lie beneath, like my own wedding dress as well as my mother’s. Some day, I’ll sit down and go through it all again, perhaps with my own kids. Sometimes touching special objects gives us the power to remember things long forgotten, and remember those that have come before us, without whom we wouldn’t exist. I’m hoping the cassette tape of a grade school interview I did of my Grandpa Les is in there somewhere.
Often we look around and despair over the clutter and junk that accumulates as we live our lives. We toss, we recycle, and we donate, all in an effort to keep peace and harmony in our own homes. But I encourage you to keep the most precious of items, corral them in one special place, and give yourself the gift of memories.
We all have a history. Don’t be too quick to throw it all away. I’m so thankful Grandma’s hope chest never ended up in a pile on the curb during clean-up week. What a waste that would have been! Kim
Kimberly Diede Author
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!