I was thinking today of treasure hunts. When Bill’s mother went into a nursing home, after his father died, we cleaned out their house. Be sure to look everywhere, she said, especially up high, because I suspect your father hid money around. This made cleaning out the house seem like a treasure hunt. We did look everywhere – inside the clock, under chair cushions. We took out the drawers of his desk. No money. He had a strong box that he had had with him since their marriage, 55 years. He kept it in his closet and never told his wife what was in it. Cleaning his closet, she would pick it up and notice that something inside rattled. She never asked him what was in it, but she was curious. After he died, Bill rifled through his desk, found the key and took the key and box to his mother to open. There was nothing in it. What had rattled was the metal divider.
When we were cleaning out Bill’s aunt apartment house, we tackled the cellar, a vast dungeon, full of rooms going back and back and back, packed with stuff. Aunt Elsa had told us that the padlocked cabinet in one of the rooms was her father’s, and she was sure it contained valuable tools. Our friend Louie came with his hacksaw, sawed away at the lock, and finally got it open. Bill and I crowded around, expecting wondrous things. The cabinet was full, but with used plumbing fixtures, some screws, a broken hammer, that sort of thing. We laughed when Louie finally pulled out a key – the key to the padlock.
My neighbor Jack came by for a visit this afternoon. I was telling him of my musings. He had inherited a handsome armoire. It needed repairs, which he made. When his father came, Jack’s wife took him to see the cabinet, to admire the repairs, and told him to look inside. No, he said, he couldn’t. It had been his mother’s, and as a child he had been forbidden to open it. After all those years, seventy or more, he still couldn’t bring himself to disobey.
Gaston Bachelard writes, “Wardrobes with their shelves, desks with their drawers, and chests with their false bottoms are veritable organs of the secret psychological life.”