Just as she was about to start up the attic stairs, a voice from below shouted “Hey, Ruthie, are you here?” Sighing, she turned and went to the head of the head of the stairs and looked down. There was Jeff Brown and his two sons, Jim and Mac standing in the hall, looking around. Jeff had always been a good neighbour. They had gone to school together, and later he had been good to her parents as they got older, when she and her siblings were not available. He or his boys cut the lawn and shovelled the snow, ran errands, and took them shopping or to doctor appointments as needed. Ruth was always very grateful for them.
“I’m up here, Jeff – I was just about to go up to the attic to look at the chest and trunk.”
“Oh, hi, Ruthie! Hey, you don’t want to be messing around up in that hot, dusty attic on a day like this! We were going to get the mower and things out of the shed, but first, how about we go up and bring them down here, where it’s cooler. I think there’s still a chair up there that is safe to sit on.”
”Oh, Jeff, that would be so good. I was really dreading having to sit up there for hours.” Ruth started back down to the ground floor. “Thanks so much, that will make the job much easier.”
The three went off upstairs and soon Jim and Mac came down with the cedar chest. “Dad’s checking out the chairs. We’ll be right back with the trunk,” Jim told her. “Where do you want us to put it?”
“In the dining room,” Ruth said. “I can open the French doors and let the breeze in. That’ll help cut down on the dust. And I can work to the sound of the birdsong. I always love to hear the birds.” She smiled.
Soon the chest, trunk and chair had been placed in the room, and the men were off to gather the mower and ground care tools Ruth was left alone to get on with the job. Since the cedar chest was in much better condition, she decided to start with it. It was beautifully carved with flowers and on the top was a carving of birds holding the ends of a ribbon that twined through a pair of wedding rings. In the rings were the names Susannah and William, her mother and father.
She ran her fingers over the carving, remembering them. Dad had been fairly young when he died, she, the eldest child, was twenty-two, he forty-eight. Mom had lived to eighty-nine, her health good until the last ten years. Ruth was sixty-five now. She was doing this because the others were still working, and so didn’t have the time to spare. This all had to finished before the end of the month, only four days away.
Ruth lifted the lid of the chest, and looked inside. In the lift-out tray there was a box, about twenty inches long, sixteen wide and four deep. She lifted it out and took off the lid, to find something carefully wrapped in tissue. On top of the tissue was an envelope with a card in it. The card showed a bouquet of flowers with faces hidden in them, a male and female. Inside the card was written ‘My darling, I am so thrilled, and so proud. Wilth all my love, forever, IAMcF.’ This was puzzling, and Ruth sat for a while wondering – who was IAMcF? Finally, she put the card back in the envelope and turned to the box.
Gently she lifted the layers of paper, and stared in surprise. A baby’s christening dress, all handmade, sewn with tiny stitches, with pin tucking on the bodice, and adorned with fine white lace and ribbon. There was a matching bonnet, and booties, too, and tucked into one booty was a small envelope. Carefully, she slipped it out, opened it, and drew out a picture of a baby, dressed in the gown and bonnet. On the back of the picture was printed ‘Ian Alasdair MacFarlane, b 1943’. Who was this? Why had Mom so carefully wrapped and kept the gown and all? Ruth sat for a while, staring at the baby. He resembled pictures of herself and her sister and brothers, and their children. Finally, she set the picture aside, re-wrapped the gown and closed the box.
There were no other surprises in the chest, only the type of linens and such that a prospective bride would put in her hope chest – or, as Ruth had laughingly called it, the “God knows when! box.” They were all beautifully made, hand sewn and embroidered, with fine crocheted lace edgings on the sheets and pillow cases. There was a gorgeous hand crocheted bed spread, too, and Ruth decided that it would be hers. The others could divide the rest up between them.
Before she turned to the trunk, she took a break, going to the kitchen and, taking a tall glass from the cupboard, she poured herself some iced tea. Going back through the dining room, she went out onto the patio, and, sipping her drink, wandered around in the garden for a while. An hour later, drink long since finished, she went back to finish the job on the trunk.
Again, when she opened the lid, there was a removable tray. A couple of largish shoe boxes held ribbon bound letters. Looking at them she saw that they were all postmarked 1942 and 1943, and the return address was to a Lieutenant Ian A. MacFarlane! Ian A? The baby’s name was Ian Alasdair MacFarlane. Wow! Had Mom had a lover? Or was it a wartime marriage, and the man killed? Was this baby her half-brother? Ruth was stunned, and her heart was beating rapidly in excitement. Why had Mom never told them? And what had happened to the baby? There was no death date – was he still alive? Ruth closed the trunk, looked at her watch, and called Matthew, the next in age. “Hi, Matt – you will never guess what I’ve found. Come over to the house, I have a real mystery for you!”