Friday, February 6, 2009

Granddaddy's Strongbox

One of my most precious possessions is an old antique strongbox passed down to me from my great-granddaddy Don. The box came to me by way of my brother, who got it from our granddad Rich, who got it from his daddy, Don.

The strong box is worn with age, and rather beaten up in appearance, but I don’t have the desire to paint it or refinish it. I want it to remain just as Granddaddy Don knew it. How it came to me is a story in and of itself. I told you that before me, the strongbox belonged to my brother. Well, he wanted rid of it because he claims it is haunted. He said for as long as he had it, the box would be visited by Granddaddy Don who would rifle through it on occasion. He won’t tell me the whole story, and I really don’t care to know it, but Granddaddy Don is welcome to look through his strongbox whenever he wants to. I figure the most he will do is holler out, “Hell bohunk, where’s my…?” or tell me as he once did when I was a little boy, “Just for that little boy, you’ll get nothing more.”. In any case, I am only the temporary owner of the strongbox, and the treasures it contains. Come with me and I’ll show you some of them.

As I open the strongbox, the musty smell of old papers floods the room. Everything seems to be coated with a film of some sort. I can’t describe it but you can feel it coating everything. The contents are strewn about in the box, I’m sure it is the result of many searching relatives looking for money. While I never got money from Granddaddy Don, I got stories and the strongbox, and to me, these are worth more than all the money in the world.

The first thing that I see in the strongbox is an old White Owl Cigar box. Inside there is Granddad’s old corncob pipe. It looks store-bought, which is odd considering what a skin-flint he was. I’d have figured he’d make his own. Also, I see a little case, inside are two medals that Granddaddy got in the War. He was in World War 1 so perhaps these are from that bloody war. Also, there is an old pocketwatch, I don’t know where it came from, but I know Granddaddy must have treasured it for it to end up in his strongbox.

There are also a few old ratty books, worn thin and covers missing from frequent use. By the time I knew him, Granddaddy had poor eyesight and no longer read very much, so these books are evidence that he must have liked to read in his younger days. Since I mentioned Granddaddy’s bad eyesight, I remember one time he was sitting in his favorite chair beside of the living room window. He would sit for hours just watching the world go by. I remember one day he hollered for Grandmaw to come in and look at something. She did, and he said, “Hell Mary, there’s a fox out there in that bush”, pointing to her lilac bush. Grandmaw looked and told him, “I believe you’d better look a little closer, that’s not a fox, it’s a fox squirrel.” Granddaddy, trying to save face retorted, “Hell Mary, you must have scared him away when you came to the window.”

Among my favorite items in the strongbox is Granddaddy’s old calendar. I remember he used to religiously write down the high and low temperatures for every day of the month. Only when he was sick and in the hospital did he miss a day. I like to look over the temperature for the days of every month, scribbled in his shaky handwriting, and wonder what Granddaddy was planning to do by preserving this information. Was he keeping a log for some reason, or was it just a hobby to pass the time.

Also in the strongbox were a few pictures of my Dad when he lived with Grandmaw and Granddaddy, and some ledgers where Granddaddy kept track of his finances. If Granddaddy owed you a penny, he made sure it was paid to you, and if you owed him a penny, he wanted it paid with interest! He lived through the depression, worked the timber camps, later owning his own timber business that operated on the land that is now the Fredericksburg Battlefield outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Still later, after the timber industry collapsed, Granddaddy made his way to Baltimore where he worked for Glenn L. Martin airplane factory where he was a supervisor during World War 2. He stayed with the Martin company and retired from there, at which time, he backtracked on the hillbilly highway and returned home on the mountain.

There are many memories buried in this strongbox, and many fascinating stories, perhaps sometime I will share some of them with you.

Do any of you all out there have similar items that are priceless to you, based solely on their sentimental value?


Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

I love this post! It is funny how sometimes tattered remnants can mean so much to us. I love how you presented this post. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

yes; very interesting. Reminds me of my family stories. Please write more.

tipper said...

Matthew-most of the stuff I value other people would consider junk! I have only a few items that belonged to my grandparents-but I love each item. I have quite a bit of things that belonged to my husbands great grandmother-and I treasure them as well even though they aren't part of my family's history. I think she would be pleased to know all the things she collected ended up with someone that loved the past.

I loved this post and your granddaddy's strongbox.

Anonymous said...

Dee from Tennessee

Love your stories. I have the Coca-Cola bottle opener that was nailed on the kitchen wall at my grandparents...I treasure it. Repeat: I love your stories.

Granny Sue said...

That's the way my father kept things. He had many locked boxes, some of them made by him. He kept everything; going through the boxes after his death was like revisiting Dad at various stages of his life. Most precious to me are his journals and the V-Mails he sent home duing World War II. evidently his mother kept all of them.

Your post has many of us recalling worn old treasures we have that remind us of those we loved.

Jason Burns said...

Good to see you are enjoying that box. I'm GLAD to be rid of it, frankly. Maybe the reason I had so many bad experiences with it is because it was meant to be with you, not me.

K Powers said...

My father and grandpas have passed on. I managed to keep each of their wallets and zippo lighters. I have then in a strong box of my own to pass on to my grandson.

Bett said...

Love your stories. Also very cool old antique strongbox !