I’ve never been one to haul out the old memories from my dusty cupboards no matter how many “romantic” light beams leak through the worn cracks of my life. Day to day I have looked to the future while treating the past like some worrisome laggard that refuses to leave me alone.
But this day was different.
While traipsing through my attic I took a path slightly different from the familiar one; only to stub my toe on a dusty old metal box. As I cursed upon it the fleeing dust revealed a name; seemingly fading in and out in the sparkling haze. A critter took it’s opportunity to bolt between the rafters drawing my attention and stealing a heartbeat or two, for just a moment. Then I looked down at the box and read the name out loud; “Matilda”. A somewhat uncommon name but since it was my grandma’s name I wondered how long this single item had remained in the house I chose to live in; purly for financial expediency I would add.
When my grandfather passed, the house came to me and being the type of person that I was; raised to be practical before emotional I jumped at the opportunity to live there. It was not about family inasmuch about a good financial step to my future. Grandpa was not the type to disagree with my motives. He instilled them in me with his swedish inflections as my parents relied upon his presence to keep me occupied while they worked. His love often bordered on indifference because it was necessary to keep order, plan ahead, and be ready for the next thing life brings. His family, refugees of the “Storsvagåret” famine, made great sacrifices to immigrate and get settled in the U.S., and through the Great Depression; all his lessons and methods were clear.
Yet, with a simple phone call he would fetch me home from school when I was sick, speak to me softly in a graveled tone, as he covered me in a blanket on the old couch, and then fetch me a small cup of orange soda.
I was slow to marry for reasons that were rooted in the lessons grandpa taught me even though he never meant to teach them to me at all. He never seemed to need, or to give any trust to women other than maybe my mother. So I guess I somehow picked up on that. Yet, there was one lady that caught my attention and seemed willing to love me beyond all sensible standards.
Taking Anne as my bride seemed quite “necessary” for some reason.
The box was nothing special in terms of ornate features. It was solid, secure and thick enough to hold a great deal of things. I placed my flashlight upon a nearby rafter and sat upon the splintering tongue & groove floorboards. The box seemed to beckon me in simple terms to open it; as if grandpa were there to chastise me for being the least bit hesitant.
Grandpa was married for a very short time but long enough to have a daughter; my mother. After my grandma passed he never married again. My perception was, he seemed to think his duties were full enough without taking on another soul to feed. When grandma ebbed away he was quiet but never quite seemed sad. When she was gone his next steps always seemed to have a pragmatic purpose. He kept the house next to the Yaquina Bay and ignored the new folks moving in around him. He kept to himself, even around me as I grew up.
I wiped the latch of the box and proceeded to open it. A springwell of dust and musty smells danced lazily into my senses. Inside were letters; tattered and frail. I opened the first one and read it as if it were a simple historical document… but; when I finished, it was clear I had discovered a portal. One that would unlock a mystery I could never have imagined; not in my wildest dreams. I read the second letter and then the third; and then a few more. I read until I came to a writing that stunned me with a questioning of all the moments I had ever spent with my grandpa.
“My dearest, I am pregnant, and I’m not sure, but I think you are the father. My husband does not know yet…”
These letters were love letters by my grandmother but they were not to my grandfather. She had a lover and after reading several more it was clear my grandfather had only discovered these letters after her death. How he came to have possession of them was not clear but in my dismay I could not ponder on anything beyond the obvious questions.
Why did grandpa keep these letters, and why did he keep my mother and me as if we were his own?
Then I thought… “Who am I?”
Anne called from below. She has not been feeling well and she rests upon that old couch in the living room. I crawled down the attic ladder, spoke to her softly and I fetched her a small cup of orange soda.