One of my favorite poems is "Grandmother's Old Armchair, " because when I read it I am reminded of how Gran's old furniture changed my life. Maybe I should tell you something about myself first. I am the youngest of three siblings. My brother Craig is sixteen years older than I. He is the successful businessman type who always manages to make gold out of straw. My sister Lorelei is fourteen years older. She is a lawyer,married to a doctor, with three perfect boys, a perfect home with matched designer furniture, all cared for by an au pair and three live in workers. Both of them are highly critical of me and my lifestyle. Maybe they have a point, because I don't ever seem to fit into their molds.
I was the unexpected addition, the one conceived on a celebratory anniversary two week cruise, with the kids left at home. I guess too much wine,or too much romantic ocean, caused unexpected results. I had a lonely childhood; no playmates,no one but dolls to stoop to talking to, too little contact with my socialite mother. You know the story.
Then, at the age of eight, I was really alone. My parents were killed in a crash, and the resulting settlement with the airline left me (and my sibs) loaded. Me, I was loaded and lonely. Craig was guardian of both my person and my trust fund, payable when I went to college or turned twenty- five. He was not cruel, but as a married professional he pretty much ignored me except for seeing that I had food and clothing. Lorelei was busy building her own career and social life, so I was left pretty much alone.
Except for my grandmother. My mom's mom was always letting me stay over, taking me to museums and concerts, doing all the things my parents might have done. She had a huge house, full of old furniture and
trunks of clothes, and I spent happy hours with her. We explored the house, pulled the old clothes from the trunks, played dress-up, and made up stories about the people who wore them. Gran knew a little about her mother, but not any further back than that. There was some mystery, she thought, about her own grandmother or great- grandmother. When I was twelve, she petitioned to let me live with her, thinking I would be happier. I probably would have, but the day before the court hearing she had a stroke which left her bedridden and unable to communicate, so nothing changed. I was restless, unhappy and pretty much difficult to live with after that because our happy interludes were over. And by age twenty- three I was a college dropout, with a low paying job, a small apartment, a two- year old daughter, and an ex-boyfriend who decided another woman looked more promising. And of course, my bills.
Now you might say "But you had that trust fund, so you should have been fine." And you would be right-- mostly. But I didn't want to touch it if I could avoid it. It was only a few thousand, and I was afraid I would fly right through it if I ever started. Besides, dropping out had changed things, and I wasn't twenty-five yet.
Right after my twenty-fourth birthday, my gran slipped quietly away in her sleep. No surprise, because she was 90, but still the timing was hard. Just as she had succored me in my childhood, Gran had taken my little one, her namesake, under her wing, buying her things, showing her the love her aunt and uncle were too busy to show. I missed her terribly.
Now, Gran's house had been sold when she became bedridden, and very little of her stuff remained. True to form, both Craug and Lorelei decided her things were too old and wouldn't fit their decors. Craig did take a marble top table, and Lorelei chose the carved oak bedroom furniture, but the rest was left for me to keep or get rid of, with no financial help from them. Of course.
I bribed the teenage boys who lived next door by promising my vintage Sega system and two pizzas, and we sold or donated everything else except some linens, two trunks full of stuff, an old dresser with drawers that were stuck, and her old rocking chair ( no, there was no fortune under the seat!) I didn't really want it. but Gran had left the dresser specifically to me and little Lucy, so I felt honor bound to keep it.
I worked for days to get that dresser open, hoping there would be something exciting inside. And boy, was I right. When I finally yanked the top drawer open, I found a pile of jewelry. Real stones. And old. Of course, Craig and Lorelei wanted a share, and each took two items. That's all I would share. I did sell two necklaces, some earrings, and a diamond bracelet to pay my bills, but the rest I kept. The second drawer had photos--- old pictures of ladies in long gowns, family portraits of unsmiling men and women, babies in long dresses--- and some handmade lace collars, yellowed with age. I imagined those ladies dancing in their lace and jewels with distinguished bearded men in formal attire, with Gran in the group as belle of the ball.
Dreaming away, I almost forgot there was another drawer. I jerked on it, and it opened to reveal--- books!!! Now I neglected to mention that I loved to read anything I could find. And these were indeed a find! Six books. all signed first editions of old authors--Poe, Lowell, Bronte, Emerson....wow! But the Lowell was the best treasure to me, for the inscription read " To Lucinda, the hope of my dreams, with all my trembling heart, James." Could this be James Russell Lowell? Could this be our mystery? Now, all the females in our family have 'Lowell ' as a second name. Mine is Linda Lowell,my sister and mother both Lorelei Lowell, my daughter and Gran were Lucy Lowell. But there was no Lucinda in the family.
I checked the drawer again, and sure enough, there was another book, this one a Bible. Quickly I looked at the family pages. We were all there,in Gran's fine handwriting, as were my parents and hers. And on one line, a crissed out name---Lucinda, with a death date of 1827. What did this mean? I had to know.
I knew the time was not right, but I knew I had to dig deeper here. Perhaps someone else in my family had been as lonely and unhappy as I. In that moment, I felt a deep sense of comfort and happiness. Gran had left me a priceless gift, even if at that moment I did not completely understand or appreciate its full meaning. And she had left it to ME, not to be shared unless I wanted to share it, but somethimg to hold onto, a part of me and my past that I had never known existed. No one had ever talked about our family except Gran, and my siblings had never cared to hear it. I believed she had deliberately put those things in that old bureau for me, so I could hold onto her as well as move forward with my life. What a help and comfort she was, and what a gift from her and her ancestors--- my family too. What a gift of love to pass on. I promised myself -- and Gran-- at that moment to find out about Lucinda, to finish school for Gran, to find a great job and a good man, and to stop aimlessly passing my life. I had a child, a mystery, a comforting,loving gift to treasure ,and I determined to start right then. And so I did.