The smell of lavender and lily of the valley overwhelmed my nostrils again; immediately the distance between my previous exploration and today’s dissolved and it was like I had never been away. My 8 year old eyes scanned the tiny boxes, different sizes and colours, all protecting treasures from my Grandmother’s life in jewellery.
Before lunch, Granny had maneouvered the huge drawer from the bottom of the tallboy, ensuring I would not hurt myself trying to do the same. Her kind words encouraging me to enjoy the moment. She always knew I enjoyed her jewellery collection and allowed me the best thing ever – time. I loved lifting dangly cut-glass earrings from their dent in old cotton wool, which had stayed snuggled inside the sturdy cardboard box from the 1930s (purchased for Granny’s own mother and passed down to her). I would hold them up to my tiny ears in the mirror, twirling around imagining myself in silk figure-hugging dresses with fir stoles. Of course, I had no figure then, but one day I would and Granny had always told me this drawer of treasures would be mine.
There were emerald and rubies set in rings, and a choker made from three strands of pearls. Many marcasite brooches, the teeny tiny stones set on intricate patterns and my favourite, a miniature deer which sparkled when you turned it against the light. Grandad had bought her jewellery every year of their long marriage and I found unfolding the tiny receipts, with their old fashioned hand writing, as intriguing as opening the boxes to which they belonged.
Granny was the only grandparent, in fact only adult, who truly understood me and spent time with me. She would help me make dens in the tiny back yard of her victorian terrace, from which the shared back passage led out to the road. On colder days, in the shed, I would surround myself with my soft toys, propping them up against the tins of long-ago forgotten paint to prepare for the treats Granny would inevitably bring out for us all to enjoy. Peter, my panda with his rubbed-worn belly, his girlfriend Becky, a rabbit whose scale was totally wrong for Peter, a fact which my young eyes chose to ignore because they were happy and never left each other’s sides, her long ears always falling forward over her face and his.
I would look out through the shed door to the narrow flower bed at the end of which were two holly trees, one very large; the height of a man and a second, tiny – barely there. Granny had told me a long time ago that she had planted each tree as we were born, myself and then my sister, but Tabitha’s tree had sadly never grown.
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Today mother lays the boxes out on her dining room table. She dismisses the collection with a sweep of her arm, indicating nothing of value but if I would like to take anything, now was the time.
My 19 year old eyes scan the items and feel the presence of her hovering. Unnerved, I pick out a handful of the dulled boxes which evoke a memory; I had not been prepared for this after the long drive back down the country. The funeral had been only a week before and mother had been busy clearing the house and shed ever since. I clutch my small handful of boxes close to me and take them upstairs, lay them next to my as yet unopened case. A week ago, while stood in the graveyard, looking down onto Granny’s coffin, some soil and the flowers covering the plaque, rembering her kind words, tears had formed as they do now. Mother had pulled me away from the grave that day before I was ready too.
I was not to know on this day, that twenty years into the future, I would realise all of those boxes should have come to me. Granny had promised me they would always be mine. I could have shared them with my sister’s memory, the baby who did not survive.