Original writings by Adrienne Nater

Searching, Searching   (an transition to Grandpa's Trunk)

She was no longer sitting at the end of a couch; she was sitting, but on the ground, under the trees ―――. The sunlight had shifted so imperceptibly that the shadows had not yet caught up to the changes in the lengthening rays of sunlight, the trees were still; there was a curious absence of sounds. Then, after a long minute ― reality, she knew where she was: hidden, unseen, six trees, one hundred and five feet east of the road. Her lips were dry; she licked them; took a deep breath, exhaled, scents, impossible to differentiate one from the other. How to regain sensibility, balance? She was methodical: it was as though she was pulling open a file drawer, fingering the folders, reading the topics off of the cuts at the top. Searching ― the dog, she leaned over, reached down, cupped her hands under Mac’s head, tilted it upwards and looked into his eyes, saying, "Why have I always, always? No couldn’t have been always, been so removed, guarded from expressing sentiment, accused of having no feelings? ‘You’re so unsentimental,’ accused her Mother. How long has it been since I could display emotions like everyone else; joy and sadness, smiling, weeping, laughing uproariously, shedding copious tears; what has happened to me that the natural responses to great joys, to sorrows has departed? The joy of being has vanished; living is a confusing habit, emotionless, mechanical. And, I can’t even cry about that. And if it wasn’t so depressing, I could have a good laugh over it, but that’s gone. Tears and crying, crying and tears: when had tears deserted me? When had I deserted tears?"

She no longer wants time to play its tricks on her memory, the past, too heavy a weight riding on her shoulders.


Look, you can see her; overcome with despair, sitting in the present looking into the past, so many unanswered questions to probe, so many years to explore, sitting on the earth, among the trees, in the muted sunlight, under a canopy of leaves, embraced in a protective cloak of flannel, there next to her faithful friend. The presence of her body, inconsequential, the intellect was all she had:

Listen, you can hear as thinking begins: "Tears are generally a reflection of external irritation, pain or the recreation of a painful event, emotional tears, real or acted. You know, those relieving dual conscious/unconscious reactions to any type of a wound; the damage could be physical or emotional, pre or post event. They could be accompanied by deep wrenching sobs that would maim a body/mind configuration, like the sting of a thousand knife thrusts that bled but not always to ones death, leaving disguised festering wounds and permanent scars: Those human displays of the self: the surrender of control that renders a person powerless or with enormous power. Tears not only affected the crier but the witness to the crying.

Well, what a shitty bit of elitist evasive thought that is."

Shitty or not she continued, in her fashion; "(1) I know that some past time I must have been capable of tears, after all (2) humans have built into the organism the crying response. (3) Crying out begins at birth. (4) That tears begin two weeks after birth. (5) So, when, why had I no longer sought the relieving power of tears, (6) had it been a gradual abandonment of this reactive emotion to physical and emotional pain, to loss, to the comfort of control; (7) was it sudden? So OK then, let’s get organized, efficient, systematic about this conundrum."

She stretches out, brushes the leaves off the front of her robe, they drop to the ground, shattered, she folds her arms across her prone body, notices the clarity of the sky, closes her eyes, the trace of blue sky lingers: she had read that when the eyes are shut, the truth begins; what, would be her best source, where could she find it, that one starting place to ignite her specific memory needs? The fingers of her left hand curls abound the fold of her robe; her right hand slips to the ground, her fingers shift from side to side; she waits for a sign, a marker, then without becoming conscious of a shift of time or place, she had before her an opened blue steamer trunk, it had been the one her grandfather packed for his voyage to America, she could detect the scent of age, it contains four generations of family memorabilia. She is astounded: yearbooks stacked to the left, theater programs, librettos, menus, stuffed animals, a pair of skates, a skate key, four stacks of letters in plastic coverings, loose pictures, photograph albums stacked one upon the other: "There’s my first baby book:" she feels a strong affection for this book with its brown, scared front cover of wood, emblazoned with her name, held together with crumbling leather bindings. She lifts it out, places it on the floor. She sees the fingers of her left hand: opening the album, placing the cover on the ground, the fingers of her right hand, stroking the first page smooth; as the pages are turned, one after the other, she is compelled to direct her biographical calendar back to 1933:

 

Grandpa’s Trunk

There it rests in the garage, a place where items periodically needed, or the soon to be to be discarded reside, Grandpa’s steamer trunk. It has been stored in garages from Antwerp, Belgium, Brooklyn, New York to Los Angeles, California. It has traveled by horse cart, steamer ship, by train, by automobile, by moving truck, and finally in a 1976 yellow pick-up truck, to its current location. It is an ideal traveler, that willingly goes where it is taken, never argues, does exactly as expected; takes anything it’s given, to keep safe and secure no matter how long they are placed there. It takes responsibilities seriously

It is twenty six inches wide, thirty-six inches tall, forty-two inches long. No longer in the original factory finish: originally beautiful, bright and handsome, then after so many years of use a faded green, the fake leather bands have become a discolored brown, but still with eight substantial thickset artistically designed triangular metal corner plates, five latches, two to keep the top securely in its place when closed, and three for fastening the lid to the base, one with a keyed lock, broken. Beneath the keyed hasp is a plate, a four-sided figure affixed with the point up.

On this shield, is engraved: "Do not put labels over this notice, Tou-R-ist, V2053, This trunk is registered in case of loss, Trade mark registered National Veneer Product Company, Patent applied for, owner’s name obtained by sending trunk number to National Veneer Product Company. Mishawka, Indiana." It was manufacture somewhere between 1903 –1925. Registration records have gone missing.

There are double rows of one inch press-stud rivets along the top, sides, and bottom. Three hefty brass hinges at the back. The exterior is sound, the shape unchanged except for a few dents and scrapes.

The interior smells of age. There is a removable four inch deep fitted shelf resting on thin supports that border the uppermost section. The floral printed fabric lining the inside, disintegrating, detaching itself away from the walls of once elegant splendor which being should be spiffed up a bit but will it probably have to wait for its next custodian.

Several spray cans of blue paint altered the original exterior appearance but not the useful intent that the inner recesses offered: a dark hidden home for the accumulation of five generations of keepsakes, each one a story.

When it first arrived at this site it was placed in the house against a wall in the living area, but as time passed needs changed; and it was moved to the current location, parked under a painted white, now grubby looking wooden shelf. It’s been there more than twenty-five years. Beneath are two sets of casters for easier movement; pulled out, opened every now and then to swallow up some new treasure. Then wiped clean, the area swept of debris that always includes mouse detritus, spiders and dirt blown in by the winds.

It arrived at this, its latest home after a death; Grandpa’s death. Death was a criterion for a steamer trunks passage in families, an inherited ownership.

Such it was with the many steamer trunks that made the journey from Europe after the First World War, to arrive in America packed with as much of a family’s possessions as possible. This specific trunk was owned by a ship’s cook who went ashore and disappeared into New York City after six voyages back and forth across the Atlantic. And like so many immigrants he had saved his wages after each voyage until there was enough to pay the passage for his family plus enough to begin a new life in America. They and the trunk arrived six months after he did, October 11, 1924, aboard the S.S Belafland a ship of the Red Star Line, all very legal, he was not. They left forever Europe and the tyranny of the Boche. And like so many émigrés who poured into America knowing that the war in Europe was not over, that it would begin again only to be more ugly and devastating.

This particular trunk was imported from America. Its first voyage and the only time traveling empty; bought in a small shop in Antwerp that specialized in traveling cases of all sizes. Purchased by this family, who like so many others who took flight from the countries under siege had escaped to Belgium, a neutral county, its status ignored by the enemy and occupied; still suffering from the affects of war: starvation, unemployment, anti-Semitism, homelessness, and hopelessness with the foreboding of what the future would be should they remain. Their future was in the safety of America.

Thus the trunk’s second journey was by a horse drawn cart to a small rented home. Packed like all the others with meager possessions: trousers, jackets, shirts, sweaters, underwear, socks, shoes, boots, shaving kit, pipes, beneath these essential traveling possessions were a multitude of family valuables.

After each voyage to America, unpacked, the goods it held stored.

It then resided in Brooklyn, New York and after many years shipped by rail to Los Angles, California. First residing in the Grandpa’s garage and then to his daughter’s garage until…then ―

Grandpa’s trunk arrived at this garage empty, not empty anymore, stuffed full.

There are photo albums dating back to 1915. The trinkets are a collection of cannot be thrown-away, can’t be parted with, bits and pieces from the bygone, that represents a lifetime of saved memories; the trunk’s greatest accomplishment. It is a holder of reminders from the good past.

Out to the garage to pull open Grandpa’s steamer trunk.