Sis and I never knew what Mother kept inside her hope chest. When she opened it to add or view its content, we asked no questions. This was her special box.
As Mother grew older and her mind weaker, she opened the chest often. She’d thumb through the contents, then lock the peeling faux-mahogany box with a brass key as old as she. She once told us her mother gave her the chest to collect items for her future marriage. I imagine she carried it to Greenwood, where she attended business school. On to Jackson to sit in her rented room at the YWCA . In a few months hence she moved the chest to her new apartment when she married our daddy.
By the time she was in her eighties she and her chest had moved into my home. She struggled to remember from one opening to the next where she had laid the key to the aging lock. Often Mother would wail, ”Help me find the key,” as though it were made of a precious metal. Daddy, Sis and I pretended we were on a hunting expedition to humor her. After too many hunts, Daddy removed the lock from the chest, leaving a small round hole large enough to spoil some of her precious belongings.
A short time after her death in 2002, we opened the chest. What seemed, at first invasive, became a tour of our Mother’s youth. We reveled in the1900s postcards written by her mother, photos of her high school days, tissue-wrapped carnival glass, embroidered dish towels and pillow cases, a baby ring, her high school boyfriend gazing at us from a filigree frame, a 1920s diary written in pencil.
The real prize sat hugging the bottom of the chest. A stack of telegrams Daddy, a telegrapher, sent Mother from his first sighting of her in 1930 on the city streets, to twenty years after their marriage. Despite their age, the messages were legible. The words were humorous and poetic.They revealed to us daughters what a love-struck young man our daddy had been.