Saturday, March 15, 2014

keys

A few years ago my mother and I spent a hot summer afternoon in the cool shade of my grandfather's old barn, browsing through boxes and paint-chipped drawers of trinkets and long-forgotten things. Pieces of my grandfather's life as a farmer, carpenter, father, and grandfather passed through our hands as we organized his belongings and reminisced about his life. Among the treasures we uncovered was an assortment of old keys, each with its own unique shape. Some were long and skinny, with pointy tips. Others were short and fat, like children's diary keys. Still others were flat and thin, brittle with age. Each showed years and years of wear from use--rust stains, scratches, dents, and bends. I touched each key, feeling its shape, the cold metal cooling my fingertips. I noticed their colors and wondered about their stories. Who touched these keys and why? To what doors and locks do they belong? Were they cherished, hidden, kept on a ring with other jangling keys, or stowed away in a drawer? Where in the world did they originate and travel? And how did they end up in my grandfather's old barn?

I left my grandfather's farm that day with a new collection of old keys and a yearning to spend just one more afternoon with him.

In the bustle of everyday life the keys ended up tucked away in a drawer of my house, until a few weeks ago. One afternoon as I rummaged through my craft boxes and reorganized an expanding collection of paper supplies, jewelry-making materials, and other crafting tools, the pouch of keys fell to the floor with a jingle. I picked it up, pulled the zipper, and the keys lay there, sparkling in the light. Immediately I thought of my grandfather. I poured the keys out onto the coffee table and assessed them, reacquainting myself with their colors, shapes, and designs. The smell of my grandfather's barn rose with the memory of that long-ago afternoon. One key (work, dark metal, simple, and sturdy) caught my eye. I knew I had to make something with it, so I slipped two jump-rings onto the handle of the key and linked those to a strand of chain, creating a lovely necklace that I absolutely love to wear. It's simple and unique, but the best part about it is that when people ask me about it, I get to tell them about my grandfather.

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