Meeting the Man I have Always Known

October 25, 2010
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My Grandma is finally leaving her dilapidated house. We shuffle through her belongings trying to decipher which are worthy of her new abode. Like every grandmother, she had collected an excess of “useful” items in her house; we have been cleaning for two days already.

As I went through a jumble of gift bags and wrapping paper, I stumble upon a dusty crate. The leather straps were rough and withered. This trunk had been through a beating but somehow had the ability to stay together for all these years. On a small, rusty brass plate, the words “Roy Barnes” were inscribed. My grandfather had passed away five years ago, yet the secret of this chest was kept hidden from everyone. I gingerly open the crate in order to view its contents without damaging its fragile state. The musk of the trunk overwhelmed the room with the smells of aged leather and oriental spices. Small tins lined the outer edges of the crate in order for them to be some kind of buffer zone to keep little trinkets, wrapped in newspaper, from hitting the walls. I reach for the first rusty tin container I saw. The outside of the container was rough like the leather, but some ruminants of varnish could still reveal its true smooth texture.

Hundreds of pictures from all my grandfather’s adventures filled its small capacity. It seemed that every picture was of a new group of men with the only constant being Commander Barnes in full naval attire. Only 21 when you see him at the helm of a 1940s battleship. The pictures were yellowed and aged around the edges. Each image seemed to progress to more present times. There were pictures of him from Hiroshima to the Inchon landing. It seemed that after every term, he was the first back in line to re-enlist. I went through countless pictures, each showing only smiles from both him and his friends.

I set the pictures aside to look at the small artifacts of his explorations. There were jade tigers and eggs stowed in crumpled newspaper advertisements. These were small pieces of evidence from all of his travels. How could I know so little about a Man I have known so long? I slowly discovered my grandpa’s alternate life. Decks of playing cards were stacked in the back corner of the crate. Each King, Queen, and Jack had a different face. Some were Irish. Some were Japanese. Some were African. As I continued down into my small discovery, I found a tin that had a lock securing it closed. I scoured the trunk, but there was no key in sight. I set the small tin to the side, determined to open it, one way or another. With each discovery, I felt like I was meeting my grandfather for the first time. There were small trinkets from all over the globe: a small carving from Madagascar, a vile of sand from the black beaches of Hawaii, shells from the Bahamas, a Koa Kangaroo from Australia, and a small golden statue from India. They were all so interesting to see.

After some time searching I found an envelope at the very bottom of the crate. The edges were torn on the sides from years of wear and tear. Written on the envelope were the words, for my family when I’m gone, in black ink. I could help but open the envelope and relieve my curiosity. Inside there was a small worn-down brass key. I took the key and immediately knew which lock it was meant to open. I picked up the tin from before and whipped of the lock with growing anticipation of what could be so important to him. What could have such great value to him to the point he had to lock its casing and hide it away? I immediately recognize it contents. An unsuspected tear rolled down my cheek. I picked up the handful of pictures and the small pieces of clothe stowed in the box. One picture was of my grandfather holding me as an infant. Directly next to it was a small pair of socks that had my name written in scrolling letters. His pictures of our family were what were secured in the small box when all of his artifacts were protected by nothing but paper. After carefully going through every item in the most important box, I search for everyone else to share in this magnificent find with me.

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