Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Treasure Chest

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Can you guess what's under this humble canvas cover?

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It's a treasure chest.

This is the doll chifforobe that my grandfather built for my mother during a Christmas in the depths of World War II.

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My grandfather wanted to go fight for his country. He was the right age, in his early twenties. He went down to the military office to sign up. But ultimately he was turned away. One of his legs was significantly shorter than the other, the result of a very bad leg fracture when he was twelve. He and my grandmother weathered the war, pinching pennies, making ends meet.

WW II was beginning to wind to its climactic close the Christmas that my mother was five. My grandparents had scrimped and saved, hoping to give her a wonderful doll.

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She was the Madame Alexander bridesmaid doll. The bride doll was the 'it' item that year, but proved too elusive and expensive for my grandparents' humble budget. My grandmother fashioned her a veil and she debuted Christmas morning, much to my mother's astonishment and delight.

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My grandmother made a gorgeous wardrobe for her, using bits of fabric from worn-out clothes. She stitched, she designed, she delighted.

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The chifforobe and doll were handed down to me when I was a little girl. I played with it all. It seems impossible to me now that such a treasure was entrusted to me, a wondrous play thing, a heritage of make-believe.

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The drawers are full of sweet little slips, skirts, blouses and dresses, hats, scarves and little accessories.

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And hidden away from sight is a little secret. Can you guess what this is?

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Materials were scarce. My grandfather drove a Dr. Pepper truck during the war, delivering carbonated elixir to stores and soda places. He was allowed to keep a few crates and these he dismantled and used the lumber to make the chifforobe.

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I find such a joy in turning over the little drawers and seeing this artwork from the era.

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And when I see 6 of 8, now about the same age as my mother was when she received this gift, when I look at 6 of 8 looking at herself in the oxidized mirror, I am struck that I used to look in the mirror the same way...and my mother probably did too. And my grandfather probably gazed at his own visage as he nailed in the trim work and attached the hinges. And I find myself the owner of a little time machine.

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And the message contained in that little time machine is this: times can be tough. Resources can be scarce. The future can be uncertain. But a parent's love for a child can draw on tremendous creativity. A parent's love for a child can imagine beauty in a Dr. Pepper crate. A parent's love for a child can make a diet of pimento sandwiches taste delicious because it means that child will receive a beautiful doll. A parent's love for a child can stitch rags into ball gowns. Because when it's all said and done, it's not about money and savings accounts and 401K's and mortgages. It's about heart and ingenuity. It's about making do. It's about making Christmas bright, even when times are not.

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And that message is perhaps the most precious gift this little doll cabinet contains.


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