When I was a little girl, my father used to tell me that family is the most important thing in life. We needed to look out for one another, no matter what. My father came from a long line of runners. No, not athletes; runners that would leave town at the first sight of trouble. I could go years without hearing from someone within my father’s family tree. They always had a hard time with facing their issues; so my dad was constantly fixing broken pieces.
Sometimes I would sneak into my parents bedroom and sit on the large wooden chest that sat perfectly in front of the three windows that faced the backyard. Dad always kept it covered with a sheet though, even though it was beautiful. There were intricate details carved into the sides of the chest that I could only see when I snuck a peek underneath the cover when no one was looking. I never knew where we got it from, it was just something no one ever mentioned.
I specifically remember one day when I was around ten years old, I overheard my dad arguing with his siblings in the living room. They were going back and forth and accusing my dad of stealing from their parents.
“You took all the stuff from the house, Andy. You didn’t even give us a chance to come with you,” my uncle whispered in a voice that barely passed through gritted teeth.
“I didn’t take anything. I simply did what had to be done after everyone left. Dad died, and we couldn’t let the house sit there and collect dust. Somebody had to clean it out; it’s what he would’ve wanted” my dad shot back.
“You never even bothered to let us keep anything. You either threw it away or kept it here” my aunt said.
“Everything is in a storage unit out by dad’s house! I’ve been saying it all along. All I kept was mom and dad’s chest that none of you wanted because it was too heavy and wouldn’t fit anywhere else. I’m tired of you all blaming me for how things happened.” my dad said as he left the living room and closed himself in his bedroom.
The next morning, I walked by my parents bedroom and noticed that the door was cracked open enough that I could see inside. My dad had taken the cover off the chest and was sitting on his bed staring at it. I nudged the door open and sat down next to him. Eventually my mom came in and sat down next to us. We were silent for what felt like hours. After a while my dad stood up and slowly lifted the lid of the chest that hadn’t been opened in years. We didn’t think anything was inside, but my dad felt like he needed to open it. He opened it to accept that his dad was gone. To acknowledge the barrier that was put up between him and his siblings. To break the tension in our house.
After my dad opened the chest we realized it was full of boxes of pictures; most of which my dad had never seen. There were pictures of my grandparents when they were teenagers, from their wedding, and throughout their lives. It felt like finding buried treasure underneath the ground we had been standing on for ten years. We sat on the floor of my parents bedroom for hours searching through boxes upon boxes of pictures. For all three of us, it was like discovering secrets of my grandparents past that we had never heard about. Eventually my dad began to feel overwhelmed, and he shoved all the boxes back into the chest and shut the lid. He told me that I was not allowed to open it again until he said it was the right time.
It’s been almost six years since the secret contents of the chest in my parents bedroom have been discovered. My dad still doesn’t like to talk about his parents, but every once in awhile he will mention a memory he had from his childhood with a smile. I didn’t know much about my grandparents because I was either not born yet or too young to remember them, but after seeing the handful of pictures that I did I felt a new connection to my family.
The chest still sits, closed, in between the three windows in my parents bedroom. The sheet that used to cover up it’s past has since been removed to showcase it’s backstory. And every once in awhile when I walk by their room and the door is open, I can catch a glimpse of it and all the memories it holds.