"Because You Have Lived..."
Bethany opened the chest and was hit by the smells wafting up from the mothballs and lavender bags. Tears stung the back of her eyes, but she blinked them back and pulled out the bonnet. She shook her head, releasing a sound which was a cross between a sob and a chuckle, the mingling of good memories with loss, and turned to face the mirror. She turned it in her hand, examining the tiny ribbons arranged to look like a mass of minute flowers. Black flowers. Who grew miniscule black flowers? They were never found in nature. Maybe they were meant to be berries and what was the point of the dark-purple rosette on the top? It was a ridiculous hat, but fashion had changed a whole lot since the 1880s.
Bethany popped it on top of her head and twisted in the mirror, examining herself while grief burned the back of her throat. She had always wanted to play with this when she was younger, but her mother had protested that it had belonged to her grandmother’s sister and was not a toy. Her mother had been right. It was special, just like the lady who had owned it. Bethany had never met her but her legacy had been profound. She had been a social campaigner – a force for good in a world that didn’t care. She had touched so many lives for the better and had been notoriously fearless in her drive to leave the world a better place for her having been in it. She had pushed her nieces to do the same; being the proud aunt of a doctor and two lawyers in a world where women largely stayed in the kitchen. Ironically her nephew had become a famous chef. Go figure, huh?
She turned back to the trunk, the untied ribbons caressing her face as she leaned further in. This had been her great- grandmother’s chest and had been used to store memories of three generations. Her mother’s graduation scroll was in that brown leather-covered tube, kept safe from crushing along with her marriage certificate and the children’s birth certificates. The thought struck Bethany that it was the perfect place to put her mother’s death certificate. It would be nice to keep all the important family papers together. Yes, she would use that to store papers. It would be nice to add to them and pass things down the line.
Further rummaging showed that the chest was full of all kinds of treasures; photograph albums, medals from long-forgotten heroes, stacks of letters tied up in ribbon – only the most precious memories made it into the chest. Bethany opened a long thin box and carefully tickled back the tissue paper. She caught her breath. A bridal veil, fine and intricate in its delicacy adorned her fingers. Who had this beautiful thing belonged to? It wasn’t the one her mother had worn when she had married. The photograph still sat downstairs on the mantelpiece.
The tears took over yet again. There were so many questions she would never get the chance to ask, things which never seemed important in the hurly-burly of a busy life until the last guardian of the knowledge had disappeared.
This chest was important. It was clearly the repository of precious memories for so many generations so the decision was easy. Her mother’s chest was going to come home with her and she and Amy would go through it together, laughing and crying as only a mother and daughter could.
Bethany’s eyes fell on an album. Maybe the owner of the mysterious bridal veil would be in there?
They were all there; frozen in their faded monochrome grandeur; the uncles, aunts, cousins, children, parents and friends. The smiling faces spoke of good times and continuance. They were her family and they were part of her just as they were part of her daughter.
Bethany’s brow crinkled with curiosity at the news cutting on the next page; ‘Amnesty for Heyes and Curry’ the headline cried. Why was that in her mother’s family album next to a flyer explaining how to get absolution from the Governor of Wyoming written in a classic Victorian font?
“Honey! Do you want some coffee?”
Bethany walked over to the landing and called downstairs to her husband. “That’d be great, Eric.” She paused to lean on the banisters and smiled at him. “Guess what I found?”
Eric raised an eyebrow. “Knowing your mother it could be anything. What on earth are you wearing?”
Bethany reached up and touched the bonnet. “This? Oh, it’s old Auntie Birdie’s. I always wanted to play with it as a child, but I was never allowed.”
“Yes, my mother’s grandmother’s sister, so my great-grand aunt.” Bethany frowned. “Is there such a thing? She was quite a woman by all accounts. I found a newspaper cutting about Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry winning amnesty.”
“Heyes and Curry are related to you?” chortled Eric. “That explains your need to steal from my plate all the time.”
“Heyes and Curry?” Bethany’s Aunt Elizabeth poked her head out of the kitchen. “Oh, no they weren’t relatives.” She paused. “Aw, Bethany have you been crying again? Come and have coffee and I’ll tell you all about the day Heyes and Curry met Auntie Birdie when they robbed a train she was on. She was so pleased when they won amnesty. She really felt she had made a big difference in their lives.” The older woman smiled warmly, “and then we’ll tackle the bedroom together. It a horrible job; clearing up after the loss of a loved one...”