The Traveling Trunk

It happened almost twenty years ago, so I can certainly claim ignorance, but it may have well been a stroke of genius. One never knows? Robin Williams said, “you’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” Believe me when I say I’m hanging on with both hands. 

I purchased a weathered black trunk from an antique dealer in lake county at the turn of the century. It had suffered significant water damage from a recent flood, which explains the bargain price, and I snatched her up before I could change my mind. It’s inexcusable, but I was completed charmed by the rusted fixtures, leather accents, and subtle mystique. 

After convincing Larry to load her up in the back of our minivan, along with the four children, we brought her home to Campbell. It was a chore dragging the cumbersome trunk to the backyard, but with the liberal use of the garden hose, I gently washed the mud away, leaving the pieces out to dry in the California sun. My children couldn’t imagine what I was going to do with an old, beat-up trunk, but I had a vision.

She is commonly referred to as a wardrobe trunk, with four drawers on one side, a hanging section on the other, equipped with six wooden hangers, and a stationary box that snaps in on the lower left side. The entire trunk is lined with a soft blue fabric that has faded over the years. The drawers can be locked in place by inserting a metal rod through the handles and securing it at the top with a key. I was surprised to find all the pieces intact and in pretty good shape considering her age and all.

I don’t know why but this piece piqued my imagination, not like a good mystery novel, more like the obituaries in the Sunday paper.

She has served us well over the years, first as a coffee table in the family room, a haven for drinks, snacks, and our feet for at least ten years. From there she moved to a guest room, performing the insipid task of luggage rack, and lately onto the lake house as a unique storage bin. 

I have to believe, deep down, she understood those positions would only be temporary, so she endured her servitude with grace, and style. She has recently undergone a complete metamorphosis, I believe this will be one of her favorites, and possibly my final solicitation. 

It’s realistic to say I’ve spent a fair amount of time wondering who previously owned this trunk, where she has traveled, and most importantly how did she end up in lake county? Clearly it was destined, like Elvis says, “finders keepers, losers weepers.”

Most of the existing wardrobe trunks were manufactured between the 1860’s and the 1920’s. Which puts my girl well over a hundred years old. Bless her musty interior. 

Wardrobe trunks were used for long-term travel, especially for Europeans, who commonly enjoyed month long holidays. The six hangers are perplexing but I assume people made due with much smaller wardrobes in those days.

We can imagine my trunk traveling around Europe, maybe landing in the posh fashion districts, or leisurely stays at charming country estates? The excellent condition of the trunk is a testament to her care but most likely I will never know the identity of the past owner/s. As I’m known to say, “let’s not let the details get in the way of a good story.” 

The soft blue material is very feminine so I’m going with female ownership. If you harbor ideas of your own, good for you, but they are irrelevant. Many of these trunks came over from Europe as people immigrated to the states in search of a better lifestyle. They were easy to stack in the bowels of the ship and most were marked with some sort of permanent identification.

My great-great grandmother came over from Sweden with her sister. They settled in Minnesota, married, moving west to Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, before landing in Los Gatos, California where my Dad grew up. I’m sure the sisters had wardrobe trunks but sadly they did not stay with the family. I suppose it would be like saving those tin lunch boxes from our childhood, we let them go when no longer needed, but damn I wish I still had my Scooby Doo tin with the matching thermos.

Speaking of letting things go, with all of my children now living out of the house, I repurposed one of the bedrooms to accommodate my granddaughters. Trading out the queen bed for two twins was a feat in itself, but better yet, I adorned them with mermaid bedding, down comforters, and bright pillows. After pulling my old crib down from the rafters, which Dante graciously cleaned and constructed, I somehow managed to cram them all into this one small room. I would say cozy is the appropriate word for the space. 

Day by day my irritation grew, until it became a full fledged entity, which I named, and started to argue with. 

As usual the problem began with Larry (he claims it was my fault, which might be true, but nugatory nonetheless) because he constructed a built-in desk for one of the kids during their high school years and I’ve been begging him to tear it out since the birth of my first grandchild. It takes up an entire wall, jets out two feet into the room, and it’s painted an ugly red (think oxygen deprived blood). And to make matters worse, the surrounding walls are this horrid shade of brown, as if a strong espresso, without sufficient cream was splashed about. A total atrocity. 

What was I thinking back in 2003? Oh yeah, I was in grad school, no ancillary brain cells, and four pubescent teens. It could have been worse.

Although it required intense negotiations, sordid promises, and a bit of groveling, last weekend Larry finally pulled the monstrosity out of the room. Then transformed the drab brown walls into a subdued vanilla cream. Bellissimo.

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” Albert Camus

Maya Angelou says, “love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” And this is exactly what I did with the help of Amazon. 

I spruced up the interior of my beloved trunk, stood her upright under the window, wedged between the bed and crib. I opened her up, loaded the drawers with scarves and handbags, draped three new elaborate dresses over the wooden hangers, ordered fancy shoes, along with floppy hats, gloves, and decadent fans. I’m a prime member with Amazon and I totally abused same-day delivery. I’ll go to confession…

We hosted family dinner last night which we do most Sunday nights, but it was especially fun because not only was Dante in town, but Nana and Nono joined us, along with Julie’s family. Which means my three granddaughters would be coming over. I was all in a tizzy to get things organized before they arrived. 

Larry claims our Amazon account is out of control, I do not know what he is talking about? When they came through the door I excitedly walked Audrey down the hall and into the reconstructed room. Her face lit up, she inhaled loudly, her small hand covering her mouth. She was completely enchanted. Mission accomplished. 

Audrey spent the entire evening playing dress-up, modeling what one would call inspired combinations, while we sipped wine in the family room, oohing and awing her every creation. She dragged her great-grandma down the hall to act as witness, help with zippers, and make-up. A moment I assume both Audrey and Nana will long remember.

My loyal wardrobe truck has come full circle, now traveling with my granddaughter’s, carrying them off to unimaginable destinations. Which is all that really matters, well that, and same-day delivery.

“My granddaughter’s birth has made me want to create things she will love.” Billy Crystal

I’m Living in the Gap , drop in anytime, and we’ll talk about the things we let go.

Note to self: I’m thinking of writing a letter to my trunk and taping it to the bottom of one of the drawers, for the next owner, who will know that she was loved, and a bit of her history. 


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  1. This is fabulous. I have a corner area in my downstairs with a play wooden play dry sink/oven/shelves combo I got at a garage sale. a small table children height, bucket shelves for toys and an old TV shelving unit full of books!


  2. Thanks for stopping in at Living in the Gap and taking the time to comment! I am enchanted with being a grandparent not only because the children have captured my heart but I get to relive my childhood by creating spaces that ignite their imaginations. It has been enormously satisfying. Sounds like you have created a magical space for children to enjoy.


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