"If I were teaching a writing class today, I'd stand up tall in my blue polka-dot teacher dress and red lipstick and high heels and French twist and glasses on a chain (not really, that was just my fantasy outfit when I used to want to be a teacher)--anyway, I'd say, "Class? Today I want you to write an essay about the contents of a drawer. Yours, your mother's, a stranger's. Tell me about what you find in there that tells me about the person. And hurry up, because I want to read it."
I saw that post from a favorite Author, Elizabeth Berg on her Facebook page recently. My mind was immediately filled with the story of "My Aunt Ora's vanity".
There is a vanity in our master bedroom. It's from the 1940's. When I was a child it belonged to my favorite Aunt, Ora Rousseau. I used to go to her house and spend the night when I was in elementary school. I clearly recall standing in front of the mirror, in the little spot there where a chair should have been. In the large, deep, drawers there were treasures of fascination. A large wooden shoe resided in a bottom drawer. It had been found on the beach by my Uncle Kenneth (her husband) when he was a young boy. I always wondered where that shoe had come from. Had a sailor on a ship out in the ocean drowned and his wooden shoe had washed ashore ? It was so worn and smooth, from a time spent in the ocean. It had crude metal studs on the bottom which served as heels. In the left top drawer resided his little tiny leather Testament, with his name written inside & "U.S.S. Tallapoosa". A picture of him in his Navy Uniform tucked in the cover.
My favorite thing when I was young, was Aunt Ora's "Pop-Beads". She kept them in a top drawer on the right hand side. There were various colors. I was allowed to play with these. I'd make necklaces and bracelets in all sizes, alternating colors and adorning myself and Aunt Ora with my creations.
Aunt Ora and Uncle Ken were my favorite people in the world. They married in their thirties. They never were able to have children and I was their godchild. He was a retired Postal Carrier, she had been a seamstress. Ken raised orchids and Ora loved to knit. She was always dressed to the nines, subtle, yet stunning. She wore red lipstick that had a little dip on her top lip, sort of Lucille Ball style. Her pumps, earrings and broach always coordinated with the dress she had fashioned for herself on her WHITE Co. sewing machine. He always had on a dress shirt and frequently a tie. They were involved in our family's Methodist Church where we were "Charter Members" (as I often heard my Grandmother say). He headed up the search committee for their first Pastor and secured the purchase of the land where our little group met outside for the first few years. Under a pair of huge Ficus trees, the little congregation sang hymns acappella and shared lunch after service. Later, my Uncle would head up the "Methodist Men" and was instrumental in bringing the first YMCA to our hometown.
I continued to be close to them even in my rebellious teenage years. I would spend the night now and then. When I was about twenty years old, I had one of those moments in life where time seemed to stand still. It has stayed with me all these years. I was helping my Uncle Ken paint his front walkway and steps in "institutional green" as was popular in South Florida at that time. I ended up with paint all over my feet. Uncle Ken came walking toward me with a rag and can of turpentine. He knelt down, took my foot in his hand and began to wash it. I had this feeling in my gut. It's hard to explain. This man exemplified the Christ I had been raised to believe in. He walked out the principals of the Bible stories of my youth daily. I knew this was the closest I would come on this earth to having my feet washed like Christ had washed those of his disciples. That little snapshot remains in my mind's eye. He passed away a year later.
When I was getting married Aunt Ora fashioned my wedding dress and with blue floss, embroidered her name and date inside a facing. When I began having children she made my girls little rompers and dresses. My Aunt Ora was my little girls favorite too. I had moved away from Florida, but returned home twice a year. We would stay with her so that my girls could spend time with her. They became the pillagers of the old vanity, the lovers of her "Pop beads". When Aunt Ora passed away, I gave a eulogy at her funeral and told the stories of her life. After the service, I was invited by her attorney to come inside the house and take the things that were meaningful to me. The vanity and it's contents, along with a set of antique bent wood dining chairs from my Uncle's family home now belonged to me, to take to my home. The wooden shoe, his little testament, their "Cokesbury Hymnal" and many pictures of my Uncle's family home by the ocean in Boynton Beach, Florida where the old wooden shoe had been found, were all still hiding there in the drawers of the vanity.
When I was in my forties, I met up with an old friend from my childhood. He began talking about my Aunt Ora and Uncle Ken. He told me about a time when he was a child and his Father had suffered a heart attack. His Dad had his own plumbing business, so when he was out of work, things had become destitute for his family. My friend told me how he clearly remembered my Aunt and Uncle bringing groceries to their house every week. He said that if it wouldn't have been for them they would've been without food. These are the things that they did with no one the wiser. It speaks of who they were and how they walked out their Faith.
Memories of my childhood weekends spent with them, come flooding back to me, when I open the drawers. I hold the shoe and wonder about the original owner from far across the sea who wore it. I imagine my Uncle playing on the beach as a child and discovering it. Now the vanity, it's treasures and I, have come full circle. I came back to south Florida to live and dragged the old vanity and it's contents with me. I am seated at one of the old bent wood dining chairs to write this story. The story of the favorite drawer of my childhood, for your prompt Elizabeth Berg.