First I found my maternal grandmother’s tiny wedding shoes. They must have been beautiful — cream kid leather with clear beaded embroidery and grommets for ribbon laces.. Their square heels a modest inch high, these charming shoes round out my grandparents typical wedding photo - a seated groom with his bride standing just behind his shoulder. The shoes did not fare as well as the marriage. My mother was allowed to use them for “dress-up” and she went to her death still furious at the older brother who lassoed her and ran her through the cattle yard when she was about six. Scuffed and tattered through they are from that adventure, these wedding shoes remind me of both dear souls.
This tin-type of Grandma, taken when she was eight, captures her sweet nature. When she died unexpectedly on the train the night before she was to arrive for a rare visit, my mother wept, the first and only time I saw her do so.
There were two black items in the cedar chest. One was a calf-length velvet flapper dress. It must have belonged to my Aunt Anne Keele, who was six feet tall. It too enjoyed an afterlife for it appeared in many play and Halloween party, reborn as a full-length dress on my shorter frame. Beside it in the cedar chest was a stiff black silk blouson, in style at least a generation older, which must have been my other grandmother’s. It has a standing collar, puffed sleeves (Hello, Anne of Green Gables!) and the remains of lace on the cuffs. I now worry that both might have been worn at the funeral of 23-year-old Roy Keele, who died of quinsy — an infection which would have been treatable with antibiotics a mere decade later.
The last evocative item of clothing was my favourite hat. When I was about six my mother made it for me out of felt. Within its Mary’s blue exterior was a cozy red lining, a colour that repeated in her exquisite hand embroidery and the hat’s silk ribbons. I wore it for years, only reluctantly giving it up when I could no longer cram my noggin into it.
Old things have a lot to say in their quiet way.