Foreword: I have often had a fantasy of coming into a large sum of money. Of course since I don't buy lottery tickets, it is highly unlikely, but that's why it is a fantasy. For the past few day, a short story has been writing itself in my head: The Curator at the Museum of the Ordinary Life. In fact, the American Museum in Glamssboro is somewhat like that, the assortment of personal collections and the array of objects from farm implements to model trains that they have there, but I would go even further and add diaries and family photos and such. So here is the story.
Gloria placed her mug of steaming tea carefully on a coaster on an under shelf of the counter near the door of the museum, then went to the front door to unlock it. The doors were massive the building having belonged to a bank before it was bought by a philanthropist who turned it into an archive and museum of ordinary people's lives.
Already, coming up the path dragging a bag, she saw a woman in a nurse's scrubs dragging a large trash bag up the steps. Gloria held the door open for the woman and they greeted one another.
"Well, well, what have you got there?" Gloria asked.
"You wouldn't believe it, I saw two women, an older woman and a younger one putting these bags out on the curb and some were open and family photographs and other precious items were spilling out. I stopped and they said they they were cleaning out their grandmother's house and they didn't want any of that old junk. The nurse opened the bag and took out a handful of items and put them on the large work table in the center of the room. There was a slim white box, just turning a pale yellow from age, with a silver stripe diagonally across the top.
Gloria opened the box and carefully wrapped in smooth white tissue were a lovely pair of opera gloves. As she took them out, she noticed that beneath the gloves there was tucked an identity card, that showed a picture of a lovely young woman in a ball gown, who was a ballroom dancer employed by a nightclub. Her name as it was printed on the card was Gina Spano.
There was a passport, and a leaf pile of old photographs taken in what looked like the tenements of New York of women working in a tiny back yard garden with vines on a trellis and wearing print cotton dresses and large white aprons. The photos looked like they were from the 1920's or 1930's.
There was a passport and there were postcards from Naples, Italy. There were photos of half a dozen people sitting around a small picnic table in the same small yard with a clothes line overhead and clothes drying on it.
Once again, though she had seen this sort of thing dozens of times, Gloria wondered at the lack of feeling that could allow family members to discard precious and treasured memories after 80 or 90 or a 100 years of safekeeping. To put them on the curb for the trash.
"Were there other bags?" Gloria asked.
"Sadly, yes, but I am already late for work and I really couldn't take any more time and after all, it's their family not mine. I did the best I could." The nurse brushed her hands together to rid them of the dust, and prepared to leave. "I am so glad you people do this. Somebody should care about the old people's treasures."
"Thanks for taking the time to gather them and bring them in. I hope you don't get in trouble at work. Have a good day." Gloria shook hands with the nurse, who bustled off out the front door again, got into her car and drove off.
While Gloria stood at the door watching the car drive away, a van pulled up and another woman got out. She opened the back of the van and yanked on something heavy.
Gloria went out the door to see what she had and if she needed help. It was a large metal trunk, wrapped in wooden support straps.
Over her shoulder, the woman said, "Do you take big stuff like this?"
Gloria replied, "Does it have any history?"
"The woman, in jeans and a sweatshirt answered, "Yes, it has some stuff in a foreign language in it, baby shoes, cards I think it was a bridal trunk from some other country. Like a bride coming to America bringing her stuff, or a wife I don't know"
The woman took one strap on the end, and Gloria took the other and together they carried the trunk up the steps and into the main room, placing it beside the table with the materials from the previous visitor. The young woman asked, "Can I get a receipt as a donation, for tax purposes?"
Gloria went to the counter and asked, "How much is the trunk worth? Did you buy it? What did you play for it."
"No, it was in the attic of a house we bought. But I saw a trunk at an attack store recently that was $100."
Gloria made out the form for donations for $100. and gave it to the young woman, who immediately left. "Thanks for having a place for this stuff. It would be a shame to throw it away and antiques are so out of style, nobody wants big heavy stuff like this hanging around anymore. I had to clear out the attic to put up insulation and drywall and turn it into a work-out room."
Gloria walked her to the door, watched the van drive away, and then returned to the trunk.
Even after the several months that she had been working at the Museum, something like this trunk still held suspense and mystery for her. She lifted the lid. The leather hinges were brittle and fragile, so she put a stool behind the lid to support it. Inside were just a few items, a pretty wedding card. Gloria, though she didn't have much foreign language background, thought the words looked like Greek even though they were in the English alphabet. There were baby shoes and a disintegrating lace Christening dress, wrapped in tissue. There was a kind of official form taped to the inside of the trunk in a foreign alphabet, the tape brown and peeling off. Gloria had a part-time assistant who was an expert in these objects. He would e in later and would take of the trunk.
Gloria had been hired for reception only. Her task was to greet people, accept donated items, explain the mission of the museum and take people on a tour of the displays if that was what they had come for. She went to the storage room in back and brought some acid free boxes to hold the photographs from the first visitor, with the gloves and the passport It was great to have identifying materials. She wrote up an acquisitions form to describe all she had gathered of the depositor's location and any identifying information.
Back at the counter, Gloria's tea had already gone cold. She couldn't help but reflect on her own personal items and family heirlooms and what would become of them. Would her son or daughter want them? Probably not. Perhaps she should make provision to have them brought here now. Next time the kids came home, she would broach the subject.