My grandmother gave me a gorgeous antique trunk when I was a child. She told me it was my hope-chest. Inside was a pretty square cloth that would fit on a card table. According to her, that is where my husband and I would sit for our meals when we were newlywed and poor. I have no clue where that cloth is now.
Fifty years later, I have never owned a card table like those she played bridge on. Nor did I ever fill that trunk with linens and such for my future life as a wife. Today, it holds a king size bedspread with an elaborate fringe which I never use, but it was expensive and therefore worth storing. A few months ago, I removed that stale smelling heavy spread to look for an old back-strap loom put there so the rods that kept the weft organized would not fall out when handled by careless hands.
In one corner I saw the six identical blue composition booklets that had been there for more than four decades. Every five years or so I acknowledged their presence – or not. Once I placed a sheet of paper under the thin stack so it would not stick to the wood. When I lifted them out this time, my thought was that not one soul other than me cared about this flimsy collection or knew it existed. Over eighty years ago, my mother had written her maiden name in childish script on each faded dark blue paper cover. Both capital letters were especially curly and carefully rendered. The inside pages were lined and had yellowed unevenly. Each one was full of writing from one margin to the other except for empty sections at the bottom. She had used pencil and yet the pale grey words were legible. Seeing them inspired a unique and familiar tenderness to swell in my chest.
My early schoolwork was not saved and it was not so long ago that I threw out a stack of term papers from high school and college. I had thought them worth keeping when I still felt the remnants of accomplishment. Revisiting that feeling filled me with unease. I had no desire to reread any before I tossed them into the bin.
There was no choice involved with reading the blue booklets in my hands. That was impossible as they were written in Swedish. It was not their literal meaning that I cared about as much as the image they generated of my mother as a child during her exile to Sweden from France during the war. What I imagined was her sadness at being separated from her immediate family, her innocence, her sweetness, her brave struggle with a new language. It was a version of her that I could love unconditionally, before her adult self, pre divorces, pre mothering.
As I placed the blue booklets back in their corner of the trunk, I wondered what had made me take them from my mother’s desk all those years ago. She never noticed them gone and yet she had kept them. Replacing the bedspread, I realized that I cherished those blue booklets with a more genuine open heart after disempowering the resentments that had complicated loving my mother. I closed the trunk with a smile on my face.