In a recent, and rare, bout of spring cleaning, I decided it was time to open my mother’s hope chest. It sits in our dining room, the perfect complement to the antique dining room set we picked up at an auction for $500 – our first “big” purchase as a married couple. The dining room lies in the front of our home, which has witnessed me as a newlywed serving my first dinner party, a hectic working mother chasing toddlers around the table, a teacher grading papers and, now, a writer trying to avoid that agonizing blank page by spring cleaning.

Peggy L. DeBlois’ hope chest holds “all those items I can’t bear to part with but are too embarrassing to display openly,” she writes. Photo by Rene Roy

There’s poetry in the fact that Mom’s hope chest is the repository of my own keepsakes, all those items I can’t bear to part with but are too embarrassing to display openly. My Girl Scout sash with all the badges. Five diaries (with keys) from various stages of angst. Airmail letters my dad wrote to me when I was studying in London. A paper doll of my husband, complete with his hockey uniform, that a friend made for me when we were first dating in high school. And beneath a box with the shoes I wore with my wedding dress in 1987, another box, slightly battered but still intact.

I carefully open the box, because the item inside has always lived here, and putting it in a new box is not an option. Inside is my gum wrapper chain. Yes, you read that correctly: my gum wrapper chain. I swear to you, the scent of Juicy Fruit is still fragrant after all these years.

My gum wrapper chain is still as strongly linked as it was when I finally gave it up to the box in 1980. Back in 1974, the collection of gum wrappers forced me out of my shyness to ask other kids if I could have their wrappers as they popped a slice of gum into their mouths at the playground. The collection phase lasted for weeks, waiting for the right amount to start sorting by color, so soothing to my OCD soul. Folding, folding, folding lines sharp enough to tear perfectly down the middle, never using scissors. More precision folding to form consistent pieces to slip inside one another, magically creating a chain out of these small slips of paper. Zebra Fruit Stripe, Juicy Fruit, Double Mint all became one colorful expression of me.

Collection. Precision. Transformation. This gum wrapper chain is everything I was as a girl, before I was labeled by life. I have come full circle and found my life as a writer. I collect ideas, grapple with getting them on paper precisely, transform them into a connected piece. I pull my gum wrapper chain out of the box and wear it like a shawl, draped around my shoulders, falling down my leg and getting tangled in my feet, sit at my desk and face the blank page.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: