When I was a child, I always saw this tea chest on a corner shelf at my Grandmother’s house. I can see the what-not shelf now, with its dark mahogany spindles. It was just something that was always there. As I grew older, my grandmother told me it had been in her parents’ farmhouse in Canada. Whether it was always theirs or passed down to them, I am unsure. I recently asked my Mom about it and she can’t remember either. I do remember my Grandma saying that it had been handmade by someone. Each of the interior lids has a small shell as the handle.
Tea was a valuable commodity and tea chests came with a lock and key. By the time I came to know this piece, its use as a tea chest had long since passed. I must have peeked in it at one time or other. I do know that I loved it and always hoped to have it one day. My Mother had it in her home for many years after my Grandmother died, and eventually gave it to me.
When I looked inside, I found many things – lots of pennies, a blue glass dish, a pick for my grandfather’s autoharp, a note written by my mother (as a young teen) to my Grandmother, a copy of the contents of my Great-Grandfather’s estate. But the most heartbreaking and precious of the treasures found inside were the cards trimmed in black that were given out at the funerals of my great-aunts, my Grandmother’s sisters. During the flu epidemic in 1918, my Grandmother, who was a nurse, returned back home to nurse her family. She had to watch as she lost one sister and then another. Maggie was in her 20’s, and Rhoda, my Grandmother’s adored youngest sister, was but a teenager. Both of them died within days of each other. I can’t imagine the grief my family felt. It is incomprehensible.
Grandma never got over their deaths. And her adored Rhoda? There is a lock of her hair along with the death notice that makes it all the more poignant. Grandma talked often about Rhoda and how wonderful she was. She loved Maggie, too, but Rhoda was the youngest of the 5 children – the baby.
I am fortunate enough to have a pack of letters that Rhoda wrote to Grandma while Gram was in Nursing School in Barrie, Ontario. You have only to read one of them to see how delightful, joyful and lovely that girl was. Her joy in living leaps off every page. I find myself reading them occasionally and thinking that she had only a few years left as she wrote them.
I’ve kept the contents as I found them – even the pennies. I sense that it was Grandma’s private hiding place for a few precious things. I am honored to have it in my possession, along with the letters and Rhoda’s copy of Alice in Wonderland.