Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Opening Our Grandmother's Trunk by Pat Aronica

Donna (front, center); Cathy, Leila, Pat Aronica, Mary Heilig,
family friend, Richie (middle row); Gil (back, center). c. 1948
at Uncle Fred and Aunt Betty's place in Bergen Beach, NY.
I can’t remember the year, or exactly how old I was. 

Mary (Hanna) Heilig and I had convinced Aunt Dot to let us look inside the trunk which contained our grandmother’s belongings.

Trunk shown in the Spring edition of Sear's 1906 catalog.
[Our grandmother, Mary Elizabeth [Fitzgerald] Merrill  had died of the Spanish Influenza when our parents were still young children. Her husband survived another forty-seven years, forty-seven years in which he never ceased to mourn his loss.]

I can tell you that we were sworn to secrecy. We were never ever to tell “Pup” that Aunt Dot let us look inside the trunk.  The look of shear terror on Aunt Dot’s face was enough to let us know not to breathe a word to anyone.

Dorothy aka Aunt Dot (top), Mary
[aka Lib & Pat's mother-to-be],
Gil, and Pup c. 1915 on the stoop
in Portsmouth, NH
[Pup was the name given to our grandfather when he was still a young husband and father. The name "Pup" was bestowed on him by his youngest daughter who had sat on the front porch, day after day, heralding his arrival for dinner. “Pop is home for supper.” Many times later, the call became: “Pop is home for sup…” And then: “Pop … sup.” Finally, my mother’s announcement of her father’s arrival to dinner was shortening to its final form, the name that we all came to call him: “Pup.”]

Actually there were two trunks, but we were interested in the one that contained Mary Elizabeth’s clothing.  There were high buttoned shoes, one pair obviously newer then the other.  They were still buttoned up to about where she could slip in and out easily.  A special hook or tool was with the shoes.  There were big hats, fans and gloves.  Every thing was folded and placed very carefully as if it was just packed. 

There was a blouse the color of a pale peach.  It had pin tucks all along the bodice.  These were ironed and still in place.  The sleeves were long and the neck high.  There were tiny buttons down the front.  The fabric seemed to be cotton, but almost sheer.  I do remember my mother telling us that she made most of her clothes, and she had a very strict schedule for days she did laundry, ironing and sewing.  I can just imagine the time it would take to get those pin tucks ironed just so.

I seem to recall a skirt or two, either dark blue or black.  There was some underwear, scarves, hankies … I don’t recall any beads or jewelry. 

There were aprons and housedresses. But it was that that peach blouse which made the most lasting impression. 

The shoes were fun. I tried using the hook to unbutton one of the buttons. My attempt failed. 

My  mother did say that our grandmother used flat irons that were heated on the stove and were rotated as they cooled.  It was especially hard in the summer months.  My mother also said it was their mother that taught Aunt Dot how to sew.  

I asked Mary Heilig to recall her impressions of what we found.  Of course, everything we touched had to be placed right back to where it was.  There was no time to open the other trunk.  I understand it contained books, papers, maybe pictures but my sister Mary said she got to look inside it one day, but doesn’t remember much.

Apparently, after helping Aunt Dot and Uncle Chuck to move, my brother Fred convinced them to get rid of the trunks as they were buggy and falling apart.  It’s too bad as they probably held some important papers, pictures, etc.

 © 2014, Patricia Aronica

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