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The Trunk

By Krystal Rollins
Published in ART TIMES June 2013

The first time Kathrine broke a dish from her wedding set after Sunday dinner, she sat on the floor and cried for hours. Her husband and six children surrounded her on the kitchen floor and tried unsuccessfully to glue the dish back together. Because the broken dish brought her family around her when she was sad, it made the broken dish a happy memory. Katherine wrapped it, wrote a note on it and placed it in an empty chest that sat beside the fireplace for a great memory. Thus started the Wooden family memory trunk.

Time went on, the trunk grew full of the Wooden family memories and the children grew up. Two of the older boys left the farm and went off to war. The man Katherine loved for so many years died in her arms after being sick only a few days. The fields became overgrown. Katherine never learned to drive her husband's truck with the gear shift on the column and relied on friends to stop in from time to time to offer help. After all the hogs were slaughtered for the meat and the vegetables picked from the garden, Katherine moved with her remaining children to a one-level house in town. Because the new home was so much smaller than the old farmhouse, the family took only what they needed to take. The farm equipment was sold for a down payment on the house and whatever scraps that were left on the property were sold to a salvage yard. But Kathrine was strong and quickly adapted to her new surroundings.

It wasn't long before all the children had left the home for all the usual reasons: work, marriage, college and just living out in the world. But with their busy lives, none forgot their mother. They visited often and tried to continue their Sunday evening tradition of the Wooden Sunday dinner. Those nights when Kathrine would turn down her bed she would find different amounts of currency underneath her pillow where someone had snuck her some extra money to buy the ingredients for the next Sunday's dinner.

The empty evenings where her children used to be there were soon filled with grandchildren. Each had a special place in Kathrine's heart and she was honored to spend each and every moment she could with them. On Saturday's, Kathrine would have all the grandchildren over for lunch and to bake cookies. And her children appreciated the break from parenting. Sometimes the grandchildren would spend the night on pallets spreads all over the living room floor and just like old times, Kathrine would read to them from her Bible and tell them stories about life on the farm.

The only time Kathrine said anything about the trunk was in the presence of her grandchildren; like the day a little one dropped a plate on the floor and cried thinking that her grandmother would be upset. Kathrine sat on the floor and talked about the day she dropped one of her dishes and everybody tried to help out. The grandchildren considered all the items that their grandmother claimed have put in the trunk and thought it must have been a big trunk. According to her stories, it contained a pair of trousers their uncle had torn on the fence. The pants were bought new but were torn so bad Kathrine was not able to mend them. She bandaged up her son and put the pants in the trunk. It also contained dishes family members had dropped and shattered. Toys that had been broken with broken hearts and tears shed from a little boy without his favorite tractor. A doll that had been lost and had been found cut up by the combine that ran over it and a little girl who couldn't sleep without it. Everything that had upset Kathrine's children taught her grandchildren a lesson and it soothed them to know one great woman patched it up or put in the trunk every time for a special memory.

It was Sunday afternoon during a family dinner that one of the youngest grandchildren fell out of the back screened-in porch. A big hole was torn in the screen and the child had a scraped arm. Kathrine quickly put her motherly skills to work and bandaged the wound up and consoled her grandchild who was scared her grandmother would be mad for tearing the screen. All the grandchildren ran to the back porch to take a peek at what was going on and to offer assistance. After all had settled down, an older granddaughter spoke up asking that a piece of the screen be put into the trunk for a memory. Kathrine's own children fell silent. They were amazed that the subject of the trunk had come up in conversation. None had seen the trunk or even thought about it since they moved. They thought for sure Kathrine had taken it from the farm house and put it outside in the shed, since it wasn't in the house. The tears ran down the old woman's cheeks as she sat in the midst of all six of her children and four grandchildren. The grandchild broke the silence and told some of the stories she had heard from her grandmother as the grownups sat around the table. Then Ainsley asked why her grandmother hadn't started a memory trunk for the grandchildren. Everybody was still while they waited for an answer.

"The move from the farm house was a quick one and there wasn't enough room on the truck for everything. Only the necessary things could come with us and since the trunk was in the house before we moved in, I left it there for the next family thinking perhaps they might to do the same thing we did."

After they helped Kathrine clean up after dinner, the oldest child, Jacob, talked with his siblings away from their mother. He suggested someone go back to the farm house and beg the people who lived there to give up the trunk if it was still there. Everybody was in agreement over the adventure and the next weekend all six children met and drove two cars to the farm house. They had not been back since the day they left. The house looked in bad shape. There was no evidence that peanut fields had been planted because of all the weeds. The roof over the front porch had caved in part of the way; the paint had begun to chip. There were no cars in the driveway and it looked like no one had lived there in years. Some of the glass had been broken out of the front door so Jacob was able to reach in carefully and unlock it. The scene inside frightened all the siblings. The floor had started to come up and in some spots it was so mushy, that they feared one wrong step would send them falling through. Parts of the roof had caved in so bad that beams of sun shone to the floor. Everyone walked hand in hand and it didn't look like anyone had moved in after they left. Dead rat carcass lay around the floor and the smell was unbearable. There in the living room next to the crumbling fire place was the old trunk even now was more rusted. The second layer of paint had separated from the metal straps that held it together. Everyone agreed the trunk would not be opened right then. Jacob and his brother thought for sure the item would be heavy to tote but noticed quit the opposite. They wanted to get it out as quickly as they could. Outside the house everyone walked around and talked about their fond memories growing up on the farm.

Without delay, all six children drove directly to their mother's house. The two oldest boys brought the trunk in through the front door. It sat in the middle of the living room floor on top a sheet of plastic while Kathrine just looked at it and began to cry.

"Mom, don't cry. Our whole life is in that trunk. You put so many memories in there for us. Why didn't you say anything about leaving it down at the farm house? We would have gone down there years ago to get it."

Each of her six children sat around the living room and grinned from ear to ear. All their children sat in their laps and waited anxiously for the trunk to be opened and for Kathrine to tell stories about everything that was in there. When Kathrine became comfortable on the couch, Jacob opened the trunk. Much to everybody's surprise, it was empty. Kathrine looked around at the grim and empty looks on everyone's faces.

"There was nothing in the trunk to begin with." Kathrine said quietly.

"Mom, we saw you wrap up each thing and put it into the trunk for our memories."

"It was just paper I folded up and wrote notes on. Then I used the paper to wrap up some of my pieces of crystal for the move. Every-time something happened, it would bring us all together and to preserve the moment, I put the memory in the trunk. But you see, the memory only exists in our hearts and minds. It's not found on a broken dish or toy or a shredded pair of pants. It's the moment in time that brought all of us together as a family. That's the real memory. And we could all be apart from it; just like now. Each of us who sit here tonight after a good dinner is a part of the memory. All of my children and grandchildren are around me and that's something you can't wrap up and put into a trunk."

(Krystal Rollins lives in Duluth, GA)