By Kimberly McCune
I probably shouldn’t be up here. I am going to get in so much trouble if I get caught. Looking out the small window, I see my grandparents still out by the barn watching the horses. Scooting back on the attic floor, I look around at all the boxes. It’s surprisingly neat for being an attic. Clean with a little dust but no cobwebs or dust bunnies. Wonder why that is. I can’t ask or they’ll know I was up here when I’m not supposed to be.
Looking around at the boxes, trying to find photo albums for a surprise for my grandparents on their 50th anniversary. Nothing is labeled, so I’m going to have to look through the boxes and put everything back exactly as I found it. Hurriedly checking out the window again to make sure they are still away from the house; I then start with the boxes on the bottom shelf. There are old keepsakes, looks like baby clothes and first toys, things of that nature in the bottom boxes. Hurriedly making sure they are lined up neatly, I start on the next shelf up. Books of all sorts. Recipes, romances, an entire encyclopedia set, children’s books, but no photo albums. The next two shelves up held holiday decorations. That left the top shelf. Checking the window again, I see them laughing at my brothers’ antics with the new rescue horse he’s trying to train. Hurriedly grabbing a box on the top shelf, I open it and bingo. Photos. I will have to come back up sometime when I have more time to go through them but at least I know where they are now.
Putting the box back on the shelf, I notice something pushed back behind the boxes. I reach up and pull it down. It’s a heart-shaped wooden box. Looks old, and handmade of red cedar with flowers carved around the sides and on the top, a tree is carved with two hearts carved into the tree trunk. It’s also locked. I try jiggling it to no avail, but there’s something inside. I hear it rattling around. Looking around I don’t see any keys hanging. This will have to wait until next time too. Hearing sounds outside, I put the box back where I got it and lined up the photo album boxes back where they were. Scooting down the ladder into my closet in my room, I close the attic door just as I hear voices downstairs. Whew, that was close.
I go into the bathroom and wash my hands and inspect myself in the mirror to make sure nothing would give me away. Other than the slightly guilty look on my face, I’m all clear. I spray a little body spray on to cover up any slight musty smell I may have picked up. I go back into my room and sit in my recliner with my book. But my mind is on the box. Where would the key be? I’ll have to look at the key rack hanging downstairs, but I doubt the key is on there. Smelling lunch cooking I head downstairs. Grandma loves cooking, I will sit and talk to her as she cooks but I have no interest in cooking.
After I do lunch dishes, I tell Grandpa I want to ride the side by side around the property. I can check fences and such. Looking at the key rack, I pick off the keys I need while hurriedly looking over the rest of the keys. Nothing there that looks like it would open the heart-shaped wooden box. Not that I know what it would look like anyway, I’m just assuming it would be an old-fashioned kind of key since the box looks like it's old.
Two hours later, I return from my ride around the property. Hanging the keys up and heading into the bathroom to wash up. I spent most of the ride trying to think of a way to get the grandparents out of the house for a few hours. Finally coming up with the idea of telling them to go check out the fair in town, they love looking at the 4-H barns. I’ll pretend I have a headache and just want to rest.
Watching out the window as Grandpa’s old Chevy pick-up truck heads down the long driveway towards the main road that leads to town 15 minutes away, I am almost beside myself with excitement at the chance to look for the key. I start in their bedroom, feeling guilty the entire time I looked through the things on top of their dressers and stands. I draw the line at going through their drawers. Not finding anything there, I head to the room they use as a sort of office. Looking through the desk drawers there and finding nothing but old receipts and office supplies. Looking around the room, my eyes stop on the curio cabinet with all Grandma’s porcelain dolls. Some are antiques, worth a lot of money. I look closely at each doll, wondering what the draw is. Dolls are not my thing either. Grandma said that was okay, that it means I won’t go trying to play with them. They are for show not playing. They are all dressed in olden days clothes. Western wear, Victorian-era clothes, and even an Indian chief on the top shelf with a full headdress of feathers. There is a male doll, dressed in sailor attire. He looks creepy, but he belongs with one of the other dolls. That set sits on a wooden bench with a wooden carved dog looking up at them. Then I notice the bench is more like an old-fashioned trunk than a bench. Trying to open the cabinet only to find it locked, I shake my head. Here I go again. Now I’m looking for two keys.
Inspecting the keyhole, I go check out the key rack. The keyhole looks like it would take one of those old skeleton-type keys. There aren’t any of those hanging up. An idea pops into my head and I race back to the cabinet. I slide my hand up over the top of the cabinet, nothing. I look behind it, nothing. I even look underneath it, nothing. Sitting back, I stare up at the cabinet from my position on the floor. I look at the cabinet itself and notice it has the same designs as the wooden box carved on the legs and the edges. That has to mean something, right? I start looking around for other items with the same carvings. I find a painting in the hallway with the same designs on its frame. I take the painting down off the wall so I can look at the back of it. There is a signature scribbled on the paper on the back, but no keys back there. I hang the painting back up and continue on my key scavenger hunt. In the kitchen, I notice the small shelf on the wall that Grandma keeps her spices on has the same flower designs as the heart-shaped wooden box. I look all around it before taking everything off, careful to sit everything in the order it was in on the shelves. Taking the shelf down, I look at the back and see the same scribbled signature. Too bad I can’t read the writing. No key was hidden on the back, so I put it back on the wall and replace the spices. I continue looking at everything as I wander through the house one room at a time. It’s not until I get to the living room that I find a mirror on the wall with the same design as on the wooden box. This time instead of the flowers, the tree that was on the top of the box, is carved on the frame on the top, only the hearts that were carved on the tree are missing. I take the mirror down carefully so I can look at the back. No key there. Boy, they really don’t want anyone to look inside that box!
Flopping down on the couch, I stare at the ceiling. The only place I haven’t looked is the basement, and I don’t go down there by myself. It scares the living daylights out of me. Ever since I was five years old and accidentally got locked down there during a game of hide and seek, I avoid it. Nope, can’t do it. Can’t go down there.
I glance at the grandfather clock in the corner and see I have about an hour left before they return. I get up and run back upstairs to my room and pull the attic ladder down. Climbing up into the attic again, I sit in the middle and just look around at everything. There are pieces of antique furniture all covered in clear plastic, a stack of paintings lean against one wall, and then I see it; a trunk with the same flower design carved on its sides. I get excited and get up. Crossing my fingers that I’m not going to need to look for another key, I tug on the lid. It opens! Oh, Thank God! Looking down in the trunk, I see what looks like carving tools with various pieces of small carved animals and objects. Picking up one of the animals, a cow, I look at it in wonder. The detail on something so small is just so incredible. The animals aren’t any bigger than two of my fingers. I lay it back down where it was and just look at everything.
I absently run my hand over the outside of the box, the flower design, and get startled when a small panel of wood pops up from the top edge. I look at it and see there is something attached. Leaning in I see it is a key! Oh my God! Oh my God! One down one to go! I unhook it from the panel and run to the shelves and get the wooden heart-shaped box down. Trying to slide the key in only to find that it doesn’t fit. I sit the box down and race downstairs to the curio cabinet and try to unlock the cabinet. It unlocks! I gently move the dolls sitting on the bench-trunk and open the trunk. There lies another key! I put the dolls back just in case and lock the cabinet and race back to the attic. Trying the second key in the box, it unlocks. I slowly open the lid and my mouth drops open.
The inside of the box is lined in what looks like red velvet and lying in the box are what look like emeralds, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and other gems. And not just a few, there looks to be about a hundred or so of all shapes and sizes! I just stare, not daring to touch. After what seems like an hour, I lock the box and put it back where I found it. Downstairs, I put the key back in the bench-trunk and make sure the dolls were exactly where they were before. I lock the cabinet then put that key back in the trunk in the attic and slide the little panel back down and close the trunk. Looking around to make sure I didn’t leave anything sitting out, I climb back down the ladder and close the attic door.
I get my book and sit on the front porch with a glass of tea and await my grandparents to come home. Watching out over the yard, the chickens trotting around, the ducks and farm geese in their pond, the cat chasing one of the chickens playfully, I smile. I wouldn’t trade this for all the money in the world. It is a privilege to be a part of the farm. Looking down the long driveway, I see my Grandpa’s old Chevy pickup truck slowly coming down the lane.
Ten years later: Sitting on the front porch swing holding the letter in my hand, disbelief on my face. Grandpa passed away a few years ago, and Grandma just this past week. Tears well up in my eyes but I blink them away. Looking out over the land that I had just inherited from my grandparents, I smile. This has always been home. There is one more envelope to open. I gently open the flap and pull the letter out with the farm letterhead. Recognizing my Grandma’s handwriting, my eyes tear up again. I’m going to miss her so.
If you are reading this then it means we are gone. Don’t cry, we will meet again one day. You should already have had the meeting with the lawyer and know that we left the farm to you. You are the only one that loves it as much as we do. I hope your children follow in your footsteps.
Now, there is something we need to tell you. In the attic, there is a wooden heart-shaped box on the top shelf behind the boxes. It is very valuable. Your grandfather carved that box for me when we were newly married. It is locked. Look at the designs carved on the box and search the house for matching designs. You will eventually find the key. Your grandfather used to love carving things until we got the farm and then he traded one hobby for another.
When you see what is inside the heart-shaped box, be careful not to tell anyone. Your grandfather and I went on mining trails for our honeymoon. It was the best honeymoon ever. The contents are what we found. Everything is real and valuable. We were fortunate that we only ever had to use a few pieces to keep afloat years and years ago. That is what these are for.
I hope the farm continues to be prosperous for you and your family. We will be watching over you.
Love, Grandma and Grandpa
Reading the letter again, I wipe the tears off my face. I never in a million years thought they would leave the farm to just me. My brother has his law office in the city, and it is quite successful. I went to the local college to learn agriculture, but I never left the farm. It is my home, my heaven on earth. Looking out over the yard, I see Trixie, my rescue dog, chasing her buddy Smash, the rescue goat. Those two make me laugh daily. I look out over the fields at the cows on one side and the rows and rows of corn on the other side. As far as the eye can see. I look up at the sky and whisper, Til I see you again, I love you, Grandma and Grandpa. Thank you for the wonderful gift of the farm. I will make you proud.