I brought home an old trunk last weekend. It has been in my parent’s basement for almost 39 years, and it was headed for either Goodwill or the garbage dump. I had been under the impression that the trunk had transported my parents’ few meager belongings from Germany to the United States in 1953, the year they immigrated. However, my mom informed me that the trunk had belonged to immigrants, just not them.
In 1938, a Jewish couple of German descent fled their homeland for England in order to escape the rise of the Nazi Party, and the trunk served as their luggage. (I can only assume that it may have carried their clothing, photos and possibly a few family heirlooms.) Eventually, the couple and their trunk relocated to the US, settling in the Midwest. Mom and dad acquired the trunk sometime in the late 1950’s. When my parents purchased their first home, the trunk moved, too. They stored this treasured chest in an attic, where it served as a linen closet of sorts, stuffed with blankets and other bed linens. When they purchased their second home, the big leather box moved the short distance with them, and found a spot in a corner of the basement.
My sister and I have spent the better part of this year relocating my mom to a retirement community. The trunk was not among the items chosen to make the move with her. One recent day, I opened up the trunk and found it filled with old baby clothes once worn by my sister and I. Included inside were several Dirndl’s, which are dresses native to Bavaria and Austria, often worn by young girls. (No doubt they had been sent by relatives when we were young.) I also stumbled upon my fathers Lederhosen, which he wore on weekends as the drummer in a German band. (Lederhosen are leather “shorts” with suspenders attached. They are the special occasion attire of men, young and old.)
I emptied the dusty, well-worn trunk and transported her yet again. I spent some time giving her a real spa treatment. I vacuumed off the dirt and cobwebs and then washed her tough outer shell with Murphy’s oil soap and warm water. (I was careful not to disturb the paper shipping stickers still stuck to the exterior. The labels are not really legible, but they are proof of where she has been.) I spritzed some Febreze on the inner lining to make her smell more lady-like. Once she had air-dried, I meticulously massaged her with lemon oil to help renew her cracked, weathered skin.
If she could speak, I’d bet she would have lots to share about her travels and the cherished tokens that she has given shelter to over the years. I found a perfect nook for her in my own basement, where I will watch over her carefully. She is, after all, at least seventy-one years old.
That is what I call a treasure chest. If it was a little older, I picture it traveling by ship with some of my ancestors. Who knows — maybe it made more than one journey back and forth the Atlantic between Germany and America??