My mother was one of ten children. Five brothers and five sisters. Her father had extensive mining and property interests. His wife, my grandmother, was 30 years his junior. He was tall and handsome. She had high cheekbones and looked haughty. They made a beautiful couple. I know this because their sepia photograph is often examined while their love story, a family legend, is narrated with loving pride. I never knew them. They died long before I was born. But my grandmother lives on in my daughter’s smile.
My grandfather indulged his wife. She had a resident jeweller who lived in one of the houses on their sprawling property. We, the cousins, all have a collection of my grandmother’s handmade gold jewellery. Rumour had it, that was just a small portion of her vast collection.
The legacy my grandfather left behind is not one I am proud of. I am a self-made woman so the concept of people fighting over inheritance baffles me to this day. But, that’s my earliest memory of extended family of uncles. The silence at the dinner table between brothers, the teams of lawyers, who left their children and grandchildren, my grandfather’s inheritance, it would seem.
We always met at my mother’s ancestral home for Christmas. The arguments carried on from the year before. We, the cousins, either ignored it and created our own memories, or despaired at the futility of it all.
My mother’s oldest sister never married. She assumed the responsibility of caring for her siblings, after my grandmother died too young. She was keeper of all the secrets. Or at least, that’s what she allowed us to believe, while she smiled away enigmatically.
In one of the bedrooms was a steel safe. It stood about five foot high and three foot wide. It had a combination lock, the configuration, unknown. My aunt protected it fiercely and refused to let anyone blow up The Safe, alluding to the cash and jewellery inside. So unlike some family relationships, The Safe stood rock solid. And, like family negotiations, it was unmovable.
I remember we were encouraged to conjure up theories of what The Safe held. We would place our hands on the cold metal, trying to pick up a vibe. For me, it had to be jewellery! My grandmother loved gold and jewels. I’ve inherited her love for pearls, rubies and diamonds. Emeralds don’t do anything for me at all. The ‘jewellery gene’ must have extinguished itself. My children couldn’t care less!
Back to The Safe …
When my aunt passed away, with no one to protect it, there was a swoop on The Safe. A ‘specialist’ was brought in to cut through the heavy metal. Vandalism! My heart aches in memory. It was the only solid thing in the ancestral home.
That there was treasure held in the cavernous tomb, was an undisputed family truth. Once blasted open, it turned out to be an “alternative fact”.
The Safe, was empty.
a dawn bird