One summer many moons ago, my grandmother Maw-Maw and I were cleaning out her attic. (This was my maternal grandmother, Ruth Anderson Ledford.) Over in one corner, hidden behind the detritis of several generations, was a chest of drawers. As best as I can remember, it had four drawers and was made entirely of wood, except perhaps for the drawer pulls. It was even held together by wooden pins rather than iron nails.
What was so remarkable about this piece of furniture was not its craftsmanship but the identity of its maker: My grandmother’s paternal grandfather, Robert Alexander Anderson (1857 – 1928). Maw-Maw was not quite seven years old when R. A. died, so this piece was a treasure to her, a reminder of a man she had barely known.
After we had finished hauling and sweeping, we were standing in her back yard looking out over the pasture toward the creek that ran near her house. We weren’t talking, just standing there listening to the water bubbling across its bed and the sounds of my cousins playing in the front yard. Without turning to me, she told me that if I wanted it, I could have Grampa Anderson’s chest of drawers, as a reward for helping her clean out the attic.
I was in my late teens then, but I knew what a treasure that chest of drawers was. I knew what my grandmother was entrusting me with, as well. She was well-aware of my interest in the family history. I think she knew I would take care of that piece of furniture, and through it somehow keep the memories of its maker alive.
But time passed and so did my grandmother, on Thanksgiving day, 1990. I never did get that chest of drawers. First, because I had no home of my own in which to store it, but later because I was an Army wife. I was terrified that that link to my grandmother’s family would be destroyed during one of our frequent moves. I just knew it was safer in that attic than it would be with me.
After moving back to Rabun County in 2004, I visited my grandmother’s home, intending to at least see if Grampa Anderson’s chest of drawers was intact and moveable. My mother’s siblings had been using the house for storage, and I knew the roof had been re-done by one of my mother’s younger brothers. Alas, I couldn’t even get through the front room, let alone could I muscle my way up to the attic.
Not long after, I asked one of my mother’s sisters about the piece. I had to describe it in detail, including its location in the house, before she remembered it. “Oh, that old thing,” she said with a laugh. “We threw it away.”
Those were her exact words, I kid you not. I suppose the shock of hearing that it had been destroyed burned those words into my memory. I don’t even remember how I reacted, but I do remember those words.
I can’t blame my aunt or any of my mother’s generation for getting rid of that chest of drawers. None of them likely knew its significance, or realized that it could be fixed and maintained for another generation or two to enjoy and treasure.
I do blame myself, however, because I did know what it meant, and especially what it meant to my grandmother who had very few mementos of her family. In my efforts to protect a wonderful reminder of a man long dead, I had unwittingly brought about its destruction by allowing it to remain in my grandmother’s house, something for which I can never forgive myself.