The stock market crash and its intimations of Depression remind me of my mother and her cedar chest. Mother set up housekeeping just four years before the '29 crash, not long enough to accumulate the down payment for a house, or enough reserve so Christmas money came easily.
Not that hard times were a novelty to her, or most other south Georgia women of the first third of this century. She grew up not expecting much of gifts, but wanting to give. Her childhood and the Depression years marked her for life, even though life became easier as she went along. So she never gave up her habits of making do.
(Though it was my aunt who defined best the genteel poor philosophy: "If you need anything, tell me," she used to say, "and I'll tell you how we do without it.")
Mother's bank was her cedar chest, an early gift from my father. The chest, considerably the worse for the year it spent in the seaside dampness of Jacksonville Beach when I was a child, sits in what we still call "Grandmother's room," where she lived with us for too short a time.
All during the year, she'd tuck things in to give as gifts.
Those were the years of the bridge parties, and mother was an enthusiastic player. That's what women did back then, when there were hardly enough jobs for one in a family. Every time mother won a prize, she'd make a note of which bridge hostess had given it, and stick that beneath the ribbon. And into the chest it went.
When a visitor brought a nonedible present to our house, the gift would be roundly admired. Once the giver was safely out of town, she'd tuck it into the cedar chest (with, of course, the card attached, so she'd be sure whom it came from).
Most of the presents from close family, I'm chagrined to say, went back to the store to be exchanged for something less frilly, less easily damaged -- or, in the words of the day, "more practical."
Mother highly prized the wrapping paper thereunto. At Christmas, she would make everybody open gifts carefully, so the paper wouldn't be torn. And if it was, she'd cut the tears off and make a size for a smaller package. She'd carefully smooth it and put it into the cedar chest.
So at Christmas, or her turn at the bridge parties, or a friend's birthday, a graduation or a wedding, Mother was prepared. And she spent as much thought and worry about selecting gifts for people from her cedar chest as those who had more money did shopping in stores.
Mother, though her purse was small, had a heart far bigger than her cedar chest.
Today I'll smooth a wrapping paper or two in her memory.