Bearing the Fardel

“C’mon, Martha Ann. Let’s go through that old trunk.”

“What’s she talking about?” I had no clue. My mother was the master of inscrutability, especially when I was a little kid. We went down the two or three stairs into the cellar in my grandma’s backyard. Way in the back, lifted above the dirt floor on 2 x 4s, was an old trunk, covered in paper. My grandma had been keeping it for my mom since my parent’s marriage a dozen years before.

Mom left the cellar door open so we had some light and she opened the trunk. There were all kinds of things in there. I don’t know what my mom was looking for, but she pulled out costume jewelry, crocheted and rhinestoned lace dress collars, old Indian jewelry and books.

She took out some of the books to take home with us on the train. One of those was Richard Halliburton’s Seven League Boots, a magical, life-changing book that I read on the train crossing Wyoming. Another book was I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson that my mom read to my brother and me. I think she had dreams of adventure as a young woman, but didn’t follow them.

When my grandmother died a few years later, and we all went back to Billings to help “see to things,” my mom pulled the trunk out of the cellar. At a big family picnic she pronounced, “I’m going to have the trunk shipped home on the train. The trunk and the sewing machine.” She claimed her territory. There was a bitter squabble over my grandma’s fardels, mostly out of sentimentality as my grandma didn’t have a lot.

Shipping it home on the train (I was confused about “shipping” on a train) must have involved a major process because even though we went home on the train, the trunk wasn’t with us. At some later date the chest and sewing machine arrived at the train station in downtown Omaha. We only had a Rambler American and couldn’t haul the trunk and sewing machine home. There was no U-haul in those days, either. A moving company had to be hired to bring them the 30 some miles RT from Omaha to Bellevue.

My mom, whom I remember as liking to fuss about stuff, fussed about what to do with the trunk now that she had it. At some point a metal box was built to sit where the wooden upper tray sat. The idea was that it would hold house plants. She got that idea from a decorating magazine, but the trunk took up a lot of space just by existing and twice as much with the lid open to let the plants have light and air. At another point she refinished it using Formby’s which meant taking off all the shredded and moldy paper on the outside. I guess one of her challenges was that the trunk has a curved top so you can’t set things on it meaning it could not be a coffee table or anything else. It could only be a trunk. I can only imagine how the trunk’s life would have been if Pinterest had existed in the early 1960s.

It’s one of the fardels I inherited, and while it IS kind of a pain in the ass (the handles are long gone, it’s heavy, the hinges are un-nailed) it’s my fardel to bear.

I wrote more about the trunk (with pictures!) here.


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/04/07/rdp-sunday-chest/

18 thoughts on “Bearing the Fardel

  1. Gorgeous trunk. I learned a new word fardel! I have the book I Married Adventure right behind me on my book shelf, been a while since I’ve read it!

    • I love the word “fardel.” Got it from Hamlet and found it again in Beaudelaire (apparently it’s still alive in French). It’s just a funny sounding word (especially to the juvenile mind πŸ˜‰ ).

  2. I love an Old Trunk Story. I wish I still had my dads. It was blue and brass and I still remember the sound of opening the flip-locks. Yours is prettier.
    β€œFardel” is new to me too. Is it bigger than a tchotchke? πŸ˜†

    • Fardel is legit, but silly so I like it. πŸ™‚ I think the trunk is 180 years old, at most, but around there somewhere. It might have come from Europe, it might have been made in the US. I wish I knew how to find that out, anyway.

      • We sometimes watch the British show, Antiques Roadshow. Everyone queues up for hours to get an assessment and evaluation of their heirlooms. Some even bring in big pieces of furniture. Then it is filmed. Quite a fun premise for those who like the carnival atmosphere that goes along with it. Shame there isn’t something like that where you are. But even if there was, it sounds like it would be a big job getting the trunk there. At 180 years old, that trunk would have a few stories to tell.

      • We have Antiques Roadshow, too. But I don’t see me taking the trunk πŸ™‚ Though I guess you send photos. It’s been messed with so much it’s probably lost some of its value. I have sometimes wondered if it has been telling me the stories I’ve been writing, ❀

      • It’s called a “steamer trunk” but all the trunks of the time (according to my research) were more or less built like this one, though some had flat tops, some were larger. This one isn’t super big.

        Before my mom took the paper off, it looked at lot like this one, which is from the 1880s. My guess at its age is from the way the people in the lithograph inside the cover of the trunk are dressed. My grandma was born in 1888 which also makes me think my trunk is older than that — but it might not be.

        https://www.etsy.com/listing/573082028/antique-paper-covered-primitive-toy-or?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=paper+covered+trunk&ref=sr_gallery-1-23&pro=1

      • Go to ye olde internet and look up places that sell antiques. Sotheby has catalogs and so do other places. There are also books, probably in your library and I’m sure you can find out when and where it comes from. That’s how I learned about all my old dolls and ancient pottery. It’s better to get books from the library. Reference books are insanely expensive. But I’m sure you can find out what you need to know. What’ll take a while is finding an auction house that has something similar for sale.

  3. I have one of those trunks and it’s full of doll parts I will probably never use. It takes up half my bedroom and I have NO idea why I don’t just take most of it and throw it away. Then I’d have to figure out what to do with the trunk. I don’t even know why I bought it, but it was so cool looking with that curved top. Now, I’m always tripping over it, but by golly, it lives on.

    That was a nice story with a lot of little ideas about who your mother might have been before she became your mother. Becoming a parent is not for everyone. My mother wasn’t very motherly and my father was a nightmare. It’s hard to regret having been born, but I think as parents, they were not among the great ones. My mother tried and she was a good parent to me as an adult, but for a little kid, she was mostly kind of lost. I’m not sure she ever really figured out what she was supposed to DO with three children.

    It wasn’t lack of love. It was lack of that nurturing spirit. I wasn’t all that good at it either. Too much like my mother.

  4. […] I found a trunk very similar to my grandma’s trunk on an auction site, though it’s larger and in slightly better condition with the original paper covering still in place. It has patent dates of 1865 which seems pretty likely to me for my old trunk. It means it’s likely to have belonged to my grandmother’s grandmother, Phoebe Copenbarger, the daughter of Elizabeth Snavely (Schneebeli) the last person in my family to have the glorious Swiss name of Schneebeli. Phoebe very likely bought it new and took it with her west from Wythe County, Virginia (See The Price) to Iowa by covered wagon in the 1860s. The other posts I’ve written (that will certainly make this one less cryptic and provide needed context) are here […]

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