Gramma Marty had a little sewing trunk sitting next to her treadle machine, 12 x 12 x 24 inches. It was made of pine boards nailed together, covered in leftover floral upholstery or drapery fabric. That fabric—gray-blue with gold and magenta blooms—must have covered a couch or chair or hung around farmhouse windows. The lid was unattached, the fabric gathered around its edge to make what was once a ruffle. On the bottom of the box, little rollers set it an inch off the floor and made it easy to pick up. But I didn't know that until I was a grown-up, given the box by my aunt, surprised by how light it was, even when filled with old scrapbooks.
Did the trunk pre-date Gramma's arrival at the Marty farm, or did it come from one of her childhood homes? Did she build it herself? She was an outdoor kind of girl, handy with tools. Or maybe a brother or husband or son made it for her. Maybe it was a gift, the fabric leftover from a house I never knew.
The wood inside the box is rough and pale as wheat. I wonder if that pine came from the Marty farm or some other farm in Pine County. I wonder what year. I can't tell whether it was cut by hand saw or circular saw. I imagine the world when everything was made of wood and stone and metal and fiber, and everyone knew how to craft things from nature into objects of use and beauty.
When I first met the box, it didn't seem small. I could kneel on it and look out the upstairs west window toward the driveway and orchard. It held mending—torn and holey socks and pants and shirts, and scraps of flannel and cotton good for patches. I don't remember seeing it in the trailer house where Gramma lived for the last few years of her life.
Years later, Auntie emptied it of sewing things and filled it with scrapbooks to smuggle out of the house to me. Old stuff. How did she know I couldn't resist a pine box covered with tattered fabric?
So it came to my city house. Now it sits next to my bed. Inside is a crazy quilt made by my other gramma, a precious and tattered thing made of dresses and shirts and aprons worn by my mother and her siblings, a mending task too big for me.
Read more about the little pine box in "If you love it, that's a clue: How objects shape a story."