Short Stories and Essays

Treasure Drawer Secrets

Treasure hunt, Melanie called it. Right there in the bottom of Rose’s chest of drawers. Curiosity and childhood memories often pulled her into a world of comfort like a freshly brewed pot of coffee. She’d wandered out in the backyard and made her way to a shed – the chest’s new home. The second-hand piece of furniture was older than Rose, and she’d wanted a new bedroom set but refused to part with the old chest. “I want a complete set,” she’d said. Not the salvage yard pieces I bought long before Bill, and I got married 40 years ago.”

Melanie surprised herself on being disappointed with the replacement. The chest had been her lifelong comforter and friend. Fond memories of spending rainy days pressing her back up against the smooth solid wood finish and devouring pages of Nancy Drew novels. All those after school visits while she waited for Mom or Dad to pick her up from school, and she could never forget Valentines Day evenings. That was when her parents left her for a few hours at Uncle Bill and Aunt Rose’s to spend a few special hours alone, she supposed.

Even at age 25, plundering through the bottom junk drawer in Rose’s chest was mesmerizing and relaxing. Her long well-manicured fingers raked across the loose button collection some of which dated back to the late 1800’s. With Rose’s care, cleaning, and polishing some of the buttons looked as if they’d just fallen from someone’s ripped pocket. She smiled as she spotted the seed pearl buttons. As she continued to troll through the collection she counted a dozen of the little gems. Just the number she needed to replace buttons on a gown she wanted to wear to an upcoming fundraiser. Perfect! Maybe Rose will be willing to part with them she thought as she put the find inside her jean pocket.

Mostly the drawer shared space with hair combs or barrettes some of which presented missing teeth and holes once filled with fresh glue which held tiny pearls, pretend diamonds or some other pretend precious stone. Who wore these pretty adornments and for what occasion? Certainly, they completed an upswept hairstyle perfectly suited to a debutante ball, a wedding, a first date or some other grand occasion that happened in the life of a well-heeled, farm girl. Perhaps they were once worn by Rose or some of the other Smith women like her mother, grandmother, aunts or cousins.

What’s this? A Meniere of tattered World War I shoulder patches carefully sealed in a once clear plastic bag saved in honor of the soldier long ago dead but perhaps the deed not forgotten. “I’ll have to ask Rose about these,” she mused. Rose was her Mama’s oldest sister. A proud retired teacher who no doubt had forgotten most of the events resting behind the treasured trinkets or very possibly never knew their stories. None of that mattered. Trolling through the treasures always brought on a sense of calming wonderment. Sometimes that was all Melanie needed. Breaking the silence, she heard labored breathing accompanied by softly padded footsteps. “Whatcha got there Melanie?” The familiar soft voice questioned.

“What’s this?” Melanie asked as she held up a blue floral box. “Auntie, I’ve been pushing this old junk around nearly all my life, and it never ceases to amaze me that I find something new each time I pursue my treasure hunt.”

“I know.”

“How so?”

“I put it there, and I suppose Bill threw in a few buttons and such here and there.” She struggled to get the words out of her high-pitched musical laughter. “And you thought it was the same collection each time you opened the drawer. Not so.”

Rose reached for the box Melanie held all the while placing her remaining hand on a nearby chair to rest her ample bottom. Once seated Rose carefully lifted the lid off the box with ease.

Melanie stood so close to her that she could smell Rose’s liniment that she dutifully rubbed on her feet each morning. “Helps the circulation.” She often reminded Melanie.

These are all letters from family members. You know people use to write letters, put a stamp on them and place them in the mailbox and off they would go. Snail mail I think it’s called now.”

“You got it! Auntie.”

“I’m not going to go through this entire stack of mail today, my dear. This is something you’re welcome to do on your own from time-to-time but here is something I think you might enjoy. A valentines card from your grandmother to me when I was in college.”

“To a darling daughter on Valentines Day. Wishing you were here to enjoy the delicious dinner I cooked for your father. Roast beef with carrots with a few other vegetables, creamed potatoes, greens from the garden and a red velvet cake the recipe was in this month’s Southern Living Magazine. I surprised him with a nice bottle of red wine which he only drank a glass. You know your dad – not much for strong spirits. Well, the car finally broke down but not to worry we’ll send bus fare for your trip home. Study hard, and we’ll see you in the spring. Love Mother.”

“That’s all?”

“Mother sent me cards and letters quite often. Her words were sparse but ever so meaningful. It was a good day when I opened my mailbox and saw a letter from home. Usually, she’d enclose a few dollars.” We were not rich but shared generously.

“That’s nice, Auntie.”

“Oh, now there’s plenty of heartbreak and bad deeds expressed in a few of these letters. Like this faded white envelope. The letter inside this one shares the death of your father’s dad. Your mom and dad were unable to attend the funeral, but they were not able to see him before he died. That was a painful experience for your dad, to say the least.”

“Hey! I hate to break up your time in the shed ladies, said Uncle Bill, but I thought you’d like some food and drink. I made sandwiches and coffee.”

“Sounds good Uncle Bill. Why don’t you go ahead Auntie and I’ll lock up the shed. We can resume our trip down memory lane at a later date.”

As she was leaving the shed, Melanie wondered what secrets the letters and cards held. Sometimes she caught her mother looking at her, and she felt a sense of for longing in her stare. She would just have to wait. Perhaps on some rainy day, she would again press her back up against the old chest and allow it to reveal more secrets.