What is the oldest treasure in your house? Is it something as tiny as a rare coin or as large as an antique dresser? Is it a practical item such as your grandfather’s toolbox or something as decorative as a great-aunt’s tatted tablecloth? Is it an ancestor’s treasured toy passed on through the generations, or a functional child’s rocker that has seen four sets of grandchildren? Is it as sentimental as a family bible or an item of unknown history such as a steamer trunk?
The question, presented by a fellow writer, haunts me. I search to find the answer. I begin with a trip to the attic to investigate an antique trunk. A relative, now deceased, refurbished the wood and tin ornate chest, including repapering the tray inserts before he gave it to my daughter. I can only guess at its history.
I run my hand along the dents and scratches. This trunk had heavy wear and had seen harsh weather. Could it have come from a northern climate such as Norway? I open it up and lift off the top compartment. Had a young Norwegian girl done the same? I find a strand of hair. It’s coarser than human hair. Could it have come from a horse’s mane or tail?
My Norwegian relatives had owned horses. As I run the strand through my fingers, I’m magically transported back to the late 1800s. My name is Mekka Elertson, and I own a wild-maned Icelandic pony that I ride along the ocean. (Hey, this is my fantasy. I might as well make it scenic and romantic.) I loosen the reins and let my pony lead me toward mossy green vegetation. Drying strips of salmon hang from a homemade rack. I dismount, unhook a piece and take several bites. Salty and filling.
I remount my pony. We pass picturesque, well-kept red barns and view the majestic fjords in the distance. I ride past a herd of reindeer and wave to a Sami outside of his reindeer-hide tipi.
I’m clipping along, my horse’s hooves barely making a sound on the moss, when a wolf charges out of the brush. My pony startles, rearing back. I grab mane and hang on. Just when I’m sure the wolf will attack and the horse will throw me, two pups dart out of the brush and scamper toward us. The she-wolf whirls around to herd them away, allowing me and my pony to escape.
I tell the story to my sweetheart later that day. Peder is the second born male, and since he won’t inherit the farm, he’s saving for two tickets to emigrate to America.
Years pass, and Peder asks for my hand in marriage. I say Yes.
We can only afford passage on a cattle boat. The straw mattress of our stuffy under-deck bunk is infested with lice and fleas, but we survive the journey. At 19 and 22, we arrive in America, eventually settling in Stoughton, Wisconsin. It’s a struggle to farm and raise our family among the hardships, but we’re grateful for this land of plenty and our freedom.
I blink. How much time has passed? I haven’t gotten very far in my quest for the oldest treasure in my home. Or have I? I tilt my head realizing I discovered my answer. The oldest treasure in this house isn’t anything I can touch. It’s imagination.
From the beginning, the human imagination, like a well-worn trunk, has filled our homes, our countries, our world. It brought the past to life for me, but it will also help our futures. It’s needed to solve current crises and conquer our life-threatening problems.
I pat the trunk. It’s our age-old imaginations that will lead us into a brighter future.