Which family Heirloom was treasured most?
“Land, child. You spend more time in the attic than generations of spiders living up there. What you be doin?” Memaw Short no longer had the legs to climb those steep steps. She was hoping and praying those leading up to heaven weren’t so bad.
“What’s in the chest?” Maybell hollered down below. Her voice seemed to spring from a far distant past when talking was about the most entertaining thing there was. Oh, the stories that were told.
The woman sitting below liked that world better than the one she lived in now. Mother Short had refused the offer of a new TV when her old one broke. She preferred visiting those memories more all the time.
“You hear me, Memaw?”
A slow smile wrinkled the ones around Memaw Short’s mouth just a little bit deeper. “You found that old thing? It’s older than I am and a heap more tarnished.”
“What’s tarn sheesh mean?” The girl child could be heard tugging and pulling something into new scratches on the hardwood floor up there. “Sure is hot. Can I bring it down, Meemaw?”
It had been long weeks since this great-grandmother had felt up to tending her youngest kin. She coughed a little of the dust falling from the rafters of the farmhouse her husband had built in the long ago. Building your own might build pride along with it but sometimes? It left a little professional attention go on the wayside.
“Will that thing fit through the doorway? Sure. Bring her down. It’s heavy with memories so be careful of your toes.” She laughed. Flashbacks of her own young girlhood helped steady her. In her time that chest collected all manner of leftovers.
“I betcha’ there’s something in there just waiting for you.” She forgave a pain shooting through her side. “Wouldn’t know I was alive if you didn’t remind me.” She rubbed it away before making steps to her rocker. It too had withstood the tests of time as she had. They were almost constant companions.
“Here child. Spit the dust out with this.” Memaw dropped a fresh apple slice from the Gala tree in the backyard. They both munched busily for a moment studying the old wooden chest.
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?”
“I can’t. It’s stuck or something.”
“Let me see.” A not so steady kick from booted foot did a knock knock on the thing’s side. “Open Says me.” Memaw cracked her joke. “Give ‘er a try.”
But Maybell already was at that task. “Look at all this stuff.” Small hands began sorting deeper.
“Wonder if it works?” Memaw picked out a small accordion. “Listen up. Let’s see how well my fingers remember.”
After a few wheezes on the device, Memaw played one of her old pioneer tunes learned at her own mother’s knee to the dancing feet of Maybell.
Sunlight burst through a cloud outside to shower light on the open chest. “Do another.”
“This one’s called the Virginia Reel. It really is for dancing to.” The old woman’s foot tapped to the beat Maybell danced.
“Enough of that. Dig deeper still while I catch my breath.” There was really no-one left she knew down through the chain of family years who might want the musical instrument. It would go away like her when her time came. The songs and music along with it unless this child chose it for her own.
She set it down at her feet. “What’s that beneath your hand?” It took some doing to rock forward for a better look.
“It’s got a feather stuck to it. Listen.”
Maybell put the Indian flute to her lips. Her fingers managed to cover the holes, naturally dancing up and down on them. “It’s easy. I like it. What’s it doing in here?”
Memaw combed a hand through the child’s blond locks. “A Ute Indian gave it to me as a bridal present.”
The flute was laid aside the accordion. “Choose one more thing and then we’ll decide.” Memaw struggled to her feet hoping enough time passed so she could take her pain medicine.
But the older woman left her shadow behind to keep Maybell company. There were family diaries, handmade cards tucked away along with their love, and wedged down at the bottom a ring tarnished with weather from tending generations of farm harvests.
Maybell spent the long minutes waiting for Memaw polishing the ring into something resembling its past glory.
“That old thing? It’s been promised as an heirloom to each succeeding oldest member of the next generation. They all know it is here. No one wants to touch it while I’m caretaker. They must think it would put a hex on me and make me go away.” Memaw let Chigger, the indoor cat jump on her lap and settle there.
“Well, which do you want from the long, long ago, child? It’s your choice.” Memaw looked curiously as the girl’s eyes wandered from treasure to treasure. Her bet was on the ring, then on the flute.
“I think pepaw, I mean grandpa is right. I shouldn’t touch anything to keep it.” Maybell looked towards the farmhouse back door as it creaked open.
Grandpa Short wiped his brow with a rag stolen from a shirt made so soft with gathering years that he’d been unable to let it completely go. “Doing your giveaway talk again, Maw?” He chuckled drawing tap water to cool down his thirst.
“Hurmph.” Memaw sniffed, smelling something unusual in the air.
“You can’t get it through your ancient head, we all keep choosing you for our family heirloom for the same reason. We’d rather have you for one more day than all the treasure stored up through the memory years there are.”
Memaw nodded, firm lipped, ready for the next battle chance provided.
“Can I borrow the flute, Memaw?”
Both elders choked on laughter. Several kin were secret borrowers from the chest, each item prized as 'the' heirloom worth all others.