Kenneth Lawson: The Family Trunk

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The Family Trunk

By Kenneth Lawson

The old trunk had been sitting in the closet for decades. 

He knew about the box in the vaguest terms, but only that it had existed, and he had even vaguer memories of seeing it. He’d heard it talked about by older relatives, all who were gone now.

He dragged it out onto the floor. He couldn’t make out any of the writing on the small label tacked to the front of it just under the lock. He lifted it to the nearest table. It was heavy. He wasn’t sure if the weight was because of the trunk itself, or what was in it. Although he suspected most of the weight was the trunk, which appeared constructed of solid wood. 

Shining a proper light on the label, he was barely able to make out a name and date. The name seemed to be that of his grandfather, Robert Brown Strong. The date looked to be early 1900s, around the turn of the century. He had vague memories of the trunk. He’d seen it when he was much younger, as a small child, but didn’t remember anything about it.

Locked—he assumed there had to be a key somewhere. He rummaged through the drawers of his grandfather’s desk and found an old set of small keys. He’d never seen them before, but he’d never gone through the old desk that thoroughly.

To his surprise, one of the keys fit. After carefully jiggling the key, the lock finally opened. The cast-iron hinges squeaked in rebellion, but after much resistance, he lifted the lid.

The light from the lamp off to his side cast a shadow over the insides, making it seem darker than it was. He shifted the light, which gave him a clear view of the inside of the small trunk. The amount of dust inside a sealed box was surprising. He sneezed and coughed as the dust stirred from its resting place of decades. Finely he unearthed several small objects. One was a small notebook, and the other was a pocket watch and various small pieces of jewelry. Now covered in dust and lint and general grossness, he couldn’t tell what they were.

Picking each piece out carefully, he laid them on the desk, in the order that he’d found them. When the box was empty of everything save the dust that didn’t float up into his face and cover his hands, he placed the trunk over on the side table.

He sat down and looked over the collection, removing dust as he fingered each item. He dared not be too aggressive in removing the dust for fear of what too much rubbing or handling could do to the fragile pieces. 

One of the pocket watches seemed familiar. He had hazy memories of the trunk opened by big hairy hands. He seemed to be eye level with it, which meant he’d been pretty small. Something else was playing up in his mind, but he couldn’t quite see it. The memory was a feeling or a shadow of some kind. He tried to force it to his mind’s eye, but it wouldn’t come. 

Setting the watch down, he picked up the ring. It too carried memories. Those memories were brighter. Then it occurred to him. The brightness he remembered was the sun. A bright summer day and a pretty hand wearing the ring was holding his smaller hand. He remembered more as the memories came in flashes. His grandfather, standing at a station of some kind, holding the pocket watch in his hand, the chain dangling between it and his vest. 

Shaking his head, he laid down the jewelry and stood up. Memories that he didn’t want to remember kept rushing back. Pacing back and forth in his grandfather’s old office, he knew what was next.

He closed his eyes, and for the briefest of seconds, the eyes of his mind flashed the shadow of the train as his mother fell into the track. Seconds later, he remembered landing on the wooden deck next to the track. All they were able to find was his grandfather’s pocket watch, which had broken from the chain as it flew out of his pocket when he jumped to save her. His mother fell under the train, and they only found her hand with the ring on it at the scene. 

Pushing the images from his mind, he opened his eyes. This was the twenty-fifth year that they had held a memorial service. And each time it tore him up when he had to speak. He cleared his throat and tucked the watch and ring in his coat pocket. His family was waiting in the parlor for the service to begin, and he knew he wasn’t going to give the speech he rehearsed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a moment of silence in remembrance of my grandfather, Robert Brown Strong, and my mother, Mary Jeanne Strong. Then I will tell you about the family trunk.”

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