For the last couple of weekends, I’ve been a reluctant assistant on various home improvement projects, helping to hoist in a new front window, fetching parts to repair bits of rotten fence before the paint crew can come in. We’re about to have the exterior of the house painted, and these things have to be done first.
It’s been years since the house was made new with a coat of beautiful white paint. I hoped it would last 10 years, but no such luck. It’s looking shabby and dirty. I can’t believe how quickly the time — and money! — go. When we had the house painted in summer 2000, our son was only 4, still slightly chubby, engaging and bright and beautiful. He followed the painters around and watched their every move, curious and alert, sitting under the maleluca and chatting with them when they took their lunch breaks.
The maleluca is gone, chopped down for an astounding sum of money when we finally realized it was foolish to keep on paying to have its roots snaked out of the main sewer line. The plumber could barely conceal his contempt during the first four or five service calls he made for this purpose. He told me the first time to cut the tree down, and I patiently explained that we weren’t willing to get rid of the tree yet just because it was causing inconvenience. He rolled his eyes and I’m sure he was muttering something about goddam tree huggers under his breath.
Like the tree, the 4-year-old is gone, too, replaced by his now teenage self, thin as a pencil, still lively and amusing, but wouldn’t be caught dead talking to painters or any adults for that matter, beyond the obligatory monosyllables.
Yesterday as I was musing about the tree and our rapidly growing son, my husband was rummaging through a wooden box of miscellaneous nuts, washers, and bolts, trying to find the size bolt he needed to anchor a stray piece of fence. I was standing idly by, ready to fetch the right tool or do whatever needed.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not really that much of a helpful person. I would much rather have been inside, lolling on the couch and reading The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. But with Dr. Laura yammering all the time about how women aren’t nice to their men and it’s their own damn fault when the men ditch them, I figured I better hedge my bets and be as nice and helpful as I can. Our anniversary is next month, and I’m certainly not the lissome girl with whom he exchanged vows in 1993. I actually wasn’t lissome then, either, but I sure like that word. I think, however, I am confusing it with “winsome” which I also was not then, and am most decidedly not now.
The box caught my eye. I think David must have plucked it out of the trash during a now-long-ago attic cleanout. It is a miniature “hope chest,” given to me, and to all girls who graduated from East Brunswick High School in 1975, as a commemorative token from a local furniture store called Huffman Koos.
I was suddenly struck by the quaintness of this artifact. When I chucked it in the dustbin 10 or more years ago, I didn’t know then why I had held onto it for all those years. Even in 1975, when feminism was in full bloom, I was a terribly unlikely candidate for a full-sized “hope chest.” Presumably it would be filled with linens, towels, gauzy nightgowns, and other items collected in advance, and in hope, of marriage.
I’m on my second marriage, and my linen closet is a terrible jumble that would immediately mark me for Martha Stewart’s enemies list. Who knows how life might have turned out if I’d had a hope chest, or even if I’d been dainty enough to use the mini version for keepsakes or jewelry, rather than relegating it to nails? The little hope chest seems very quaint, and somehow sweet and earnest in a way I couldn’t capture then, but wish I had.