Cooking With Myra: One man's trash, another man's treasure
By Myra Starkey
Oct. 30, 2012 at 5:30 a.m.
When I was in junior high, my parents built a new house. My mom decorated the house with a mixture of antiques and new furniture.
My grandmother gave my mother a small chest, which she put in our dining room. I called it a "golden treasure chest."
I grew fond of that chest over the years because my mom would put special things in it. She did not mind that I looked inside the drawers as long as I did not take anything out. The treasure chest moved to the next house, too, and I admired it.
One day, I asked Mom where she got it and she told me this story. Mom lived in New Iberia, La. when she was young. Her mother (my Memaw) took her shopping on Main Street one day and while walking down the street mom saw it in the window of an antique shop. She was 4 years old at the time so that would have been 1938.
The box was wooden, of fairly crude construction, and the style of what was called "hobo art" in those days.
During the Great Depression, unemployed guys would craft such things from scraps of wooden crates to make a little money. It was painted gold and probably appeared to a child as something that Aladdin himself would have been proud to own.
She said she looked at her mom and told her it was one of the most beautiful treasure chests she had ever seen. My grandmother bought the chest and gave it to her. She placed in it pictures of my dad, a napkin from their wedding, medals she earned, ticket stubs from plays she starred in and pictures of her first apartment in New Orleans when she was in nursing school. I asked her if she would give it to me one day, and she said she would write my name inside and then when she was "dead and gone" I could have the treasure chest. My mom was true to her promise.
In July, my mom died. My sisters and I have spent the last several months going through my parents' house sorting, throwing away and packing up her collections of things both valuable and other items that held only meaning to her.
My dad wants to move to a smaller house. So he has solicited our assistance in cleaning out the house. I do not really like removing items from their house because somehow it seems that if I leave it all in place, my mom's memory is stronger. I fear that if we dismantle all those years of living, piece by piece, the memory gets fainter. For this reason alone I had left the treasure chest in its rightful place.
A week ago, my friend Janet and I made the trip to Lake Charles to get the house looking presentable to sell. Janet is really good at making a space look organized. We arrived late on a Thursday night planning to get an early start on Friday. The realtors were arriving on Saturday afternoon, and we had a lot to do.
I walked into the den and immediately noticed the treasure chest was gone.
I asked dad about it and he said he had been cleaning and had brought in a lady who had helped him pack up a lot of stuff.
He could not remember where the chest was. I asked with a tinge of anxiety beginning to grip me, "Did you move the treasure chest?" By this time, tears were forming in my eyes, and Janet was looking at me with some apprehension.
Dad mentioned he had taken a lot of boxes to the Christian Assistance Ministry Thrift Shop and it was probably in one of them. As he said this my tears spilled onto my cheeks and I excused myself from the room.
I could not believe that I had lost the chest to a thrift store. Surely dad knew its value to me and to mom.
I frantically searched the boxes in the garage and storage areas. I looked in the closets hoping my sisters had set it aside for me.
I called both of them and they remembered the chest being in the same place when they left.
There was simply no other explanation. It must have been packed up and cast aside in a box bound for charity or even worse, the dump.
I could not hide my exasperation when I asked dad to try to remember the last time he saw it.
That night I tossed and turned, and when I awoke, I thought only of the loss of mom and how things were never going to be the same.
I awoke the next morning and dad had already called the lady who helped him pack and she did not remember seeing the chest.
Our only hope seemed to rest on the chance that it was at the thrift store and the contents were intact. I knew there was little chance we could recover it. The store would not open for several hours.
Janet and I got busy packing up books, music CDs and files in the study. We worked side by side dusting shelves and packing using the boxes we brought for that purpose.
I doubt that our loved ones can directly help us after they are gone but I am sure that God can so I prayed that I could find the chest.
Janet and I continued to pack for several more hours. The room we were in was filling up with the boxes we had loaded plus lots more that had been packed before.
We had to rearrange the boxes to have more space. I picked up one of the boxes in the room and moved it, and heard something heavy slide around inside. I quickly looked inside and there was the treasure chest.
Tears of joy spilled down my face, and a huge load was lifted from me.
The next weekend, our friends, Chris and Cindy, invited us to dinner in their home.
They live in Port O'Connor and time spent with them means fun and great food. Chris is a wonderful cook and enjoys his time in the kitchen. Cindy loves to prepare healthy food, so we had seafood marinara over spaghetti squash with homemade sourdough bread, green salad with avocado and a pumpkin mousse pie with gingersnap crust.
We sat on the outside porch as the sun set from the clear blue sky while the full moon rose from the east. We also shared the meal and conversation with two other couples, Ann and Bill, and Kathy and Mike.
We delighted in seeing tug boats, barges and sailboats cruise by on the Intracoastal Canal. It was a truly relaxing evening.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email email@example.com.