It was an enormous black steamer trunk, bound in leather, with big brass corners, leather handles on either end and a lock that could not be picked. It smelled of sawdust on the inside, sawdust and books. It was big enough to hold a body, two if they were small, big enough to hold the entire worldly possessions of a young lady or gentleman off to college.
That had been the intent of my father when he bought it in the 1950’s, and he stencilled his name, Arthur E. Lemay, in red gothic letters on the top. By the time I got it it was already beaten and worn, with scratches and small dents on the outside, but the red letters were still there. It was still a strong trunk and I like my father before me packed it with everything I owned and took it off to college.
The trunk stayed with me for the next four years. Even in the smallest of dorm rooms I found someplace to put the trunk. Even though it was kind of low and there was no place to put my feet I put my computer on top of it and used it as a desk (ergonomics are irrelevant when you are 17). I put it in the closet on its side, opened it up, stacked milk crates into it, and used it for shelves. For a while it made an excellent base for a small refrigerator. If I had a spare corner, space under the loft, some section of the dorm room I could shoehorn it into, the trunk went there. Over the four years, as I moved all around campus, as I changed majors and roommates and boyfriends, there was me, and there was my trunk, my big black steamer trunk with my father’s name on the lid.
My senior year I moved into a campus apartment that actually had basement storage. And after all this time of using the trunk as furniture, of carting the trunk around and creatively stuffing it into various spots in various rooms, I finally decided to put the trunk away for a while. And so with the help of some friends we carried the trunk down two flights of stairs and put it away into the big storage locker for my apartment.
And then I forgot about the trunk.
After I graduated, I went back home, and then I moved out to California to start my new life out on my own. It was several years before I realized I had forgotten about the trunk. I had forgotten about the trunk and I had left it at school.
Oh, my god. My father’s trunk. I had lost my father’s trunk.
There have been a number of times since then I have beaten my head against the wall for this. It was a great old trunk. I loved that trunk. And I put it in storage. And FORGOT ABOUT IT. I LOST MY FATHER’S TRUNK. HOW COULD I BE SO STUPID.
Even worse, I was dreading the day someone would ask me about it. Sooner or later someone in my family would ask me: “what ever happened to that big old black trunk of your father’s?” And then I would have to admit that I was a moron, I LOST MY FATHER’S TRUNK. I LEFT IT AT SCHOOL. I am a terrible, terrible daughter.
This last weekend I was at home, visiting my mother, and we spent some time wandering around antique shops. At one of the shops there was a big steamer trunk, similar to the one my father had.
It wasn’t as nice as my father’s trunk; it was brown, and the leather was torn in a number of places. It was missing the shelf inside. But still, it was a close approximation to the big old trunk I had left behind at school.
As I was looking at it, my mother wandered up. “That looks sort of like your father’s old trunk,” she said. Oh no, I thought. Now comes the question. I braced myself.
“I still have that trunk in my basement, you know,” she said.
I gaped. I boggled. “But…but…” I stuttered. “I thought I left that trunk at school!”
“No you didn’t, you brought it home.” My mother said. “Your sister took it to school with her a year later, and then she brought it home, too.”
I stared at my mother in disbelief. How was this possible? “Oh my god! I thought I had lost it! For twelve years I’ve been having nightmares about losing that trunk!”
“You didn’t lose it, its been in my basement the whole time,” my mother said, looking at me like I was out of my mind. “Do you want it? I can probably ship it to you.”
“Yes! Yes! Oh my God!”
I have no memory of bringing that trunk home, no memory of carrying it back upstairs from the storage room in the basement, of packing it up again for the trip back from school. Perhaps I didn’t; perhaps like those cat stories you hear on the news once in a while the trunk followed me home all by itself, wanting to remain in the family it had been branded with a generation before. I don’t know how it got here. But I am glad it did.
The trunk is a little older, a little more worn. Along the way the key has been lost and we’ve broken the lock so that we can get into it. But its still the same old black trunk, still has the same Arthur E. Lemay in red letters on the top, still has the worn leather handles at either end. I will have it shipped freight from my mother’s basement in New England to my house in California, and I have just the place to put it, not in a corner, or a closet, or a dark basement storage locker, but in a bright sunny window in the bedroom, overlooking the mountains.