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Hannah's Attic

by Mary McDonald 2 years ago in grandparents
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Our Secret

Hannah's Attic
Photo by Ruslan Zaplatin on Unsplash

Hannah finished clearing her plate from lunch and remembered that she still hadn’t found that old family photo album she was looking for. She went back to her bedroom and looked one last time in the back of her closet, behind all the shoeboxes and backpacks. She knew it wouldn’t be there but she thought she’d check once more just to be sure. Now that she had looked everywhere it could be, she became overwhelmed by the idea of taking the stairs up to the dark and dusty attic. She knew that it must be up there. She grabbed a flashlight off the hall table and headed toward the attic stairs. She climbed the long staircase with the stream of light from her flashlight guiding her. She reached the attic landing and turned on the Victorian pink shaded glass lamp. A pinkish hue was cast across to the corners of the large attic room. She saw stacked towers of boxes of all sizes all across the back wall of the attic. Next to them in the corner was an antique mahogany wooden coat hanger with some dusty old coats hanging on it. She saw the shadows the coats cast on the wall in the pink dusty light. In the shadows it looked as if someone was standing in the corner.

Hannah decided that she wasn’t going to let her mind start to play tricks on her, she wasn’t going to scare herself into having to leave the attic like she usually did. She saw a large dusty box on the top of the pile and thought it might be a good place to start. She cautiously opened the dusty flaps worried about the possibility that something might jump out at her. She saw that the box was filled with papers, old bills and tax papers. She pushed the box out of the way and noticed a large trunk just behind it. She reached over to the trunk and tried to lift the top. It was stuck, or so she thought. She moved closer to the trunk and tried to open it again and scraped her knuckle on the wood. A tiny bit of blood appeared on her knuckle and she winced slightly. She realized then that the trunk was locked. Now who would lock a trunk and why would someone do that she wondered. She decided it would be interesting to get the trunk open and see what was worth hiding. She found a small thin screwdriver near the lamp and inserted the end into the lock hinge. She pushed and pressed and tried pulling again on the trunk. She finally heard a pop and the trunk lock fell off. She was hesitant to open it now thinking maybe she shouldn’t be looking in the trunk if someone had gone to the trouble of locking it an all. Her curiosity got the better of her though and she decided to just take a peek inside. She had always been a curious child and it had gotten her in trouble quite a few times over the years, like that time she had to see what was in her mother’s closet and she found her unwrapped birthday presents. She pushed the top of the trunk open with some force and found herself looking down onto tissue paper, it was a soft faded yellow. It was so faded it was almost white. As she touched it, she felt it disintegrate in her fingers. She lifted the paper cautiously and looked to see what was underneath. A slight sparkle caught her eye and she noticed there were a few sequins and they adorned a dress, a very old dress. She carefully pulled it out of the chest and went to pull a sheet off a full-length mirror next to the chest and held the dress up to herself. As she held the dress against her body, she felt a weight in the dress that she didn’t expect. She felt something lay against her leg and looked down at the bottom of the dress. She lifted the dress up and felt along the bottom and saw that there was a seam and a weight in the bottom of the dress. She started to feel along the fabric to see what was weighting the dress. She felt a few bumps under the fabric and as she felt around, she felt more and more shapes under her fingers. She found a part of the seam that had started to fray and slipped her pinky into the fray. The fabric quickly gave way and the threads pulled apart. Hannah tried to scoop her finger into the seam and see what was inside the dress when a string of jewels slid out on her lap. She was surprised and lifted the bracelet into the light and saw what looked like diamonds all around the bracelet. This did not make any sense, well maybe the bracelet had gotten caught in the seam and was stuck in the dress. She felt further around the seam and the threads gave way and jewels began pouring out onto her lap. A small ruby ring, a diamond necklace, tiny gold earrings with diamond accents and a large sapphire pendant. She was so confused, what was happening here?

She went back to the trunk to see if maybe there were some answers hiding in there. She lifted the tissue paper and saw a little black book. She opened the book and it had some sort of code with listings of numbers and jewels in it. It said 010 sapphire necklace, 1 carat diamond earrings, 1 carat diamond ring. She scanned the list looking for the items laying on her lap. She looked through each of the pages and she could not find the matching jewels on the list. She decided to go further into the trunk, maybe there would be more answers. She found a very old ledger and opened it. She saw amounts of money listed and tracked in columns and columns and for pages and pages. She reached into the trunk once more and found the last item at the bottom corner of the chest and it was a water-stained faded picture of her grandmother, well it was her grandmother, when she was young, when she was about Hannah’s age. Her hair was long and curled and pulled back from her face, she was wearing a simple oversized black tunic style dress and plain flat black shoes. She looked poor in the photo with her tattered clothing and she had a sad look on her face. But she was a beautiful girl, quite stunning actually.

Just as she was sitting there with the dress strewn over her lap, the jewels puddled on her lap, and the photo in her hand, she heard a noise behind her. Someone was coming up the stairs. She felt her heart begin to race and she wasn’t sure what to do with everything so she just stayed as she was. She saw her grandmother coming walking toward her and smiling. As she approached Hannah, she was saying “Hannah what are you doing up here, you never come up to the attic” and as she got even closer and could begin to make out the scene in front of her, Hannah watched her grandmother’s smile slowly fade and it began to contort into a shape she had never seen before. Now Hannah felt frightened, had she done something wrong? Her impulse was to jump up and throw everything back into the trunk and run past her grandmother, but she knew it was too late for that. So, Hannah waited for her grandmother to approach and she held up the photo and said “I think this is a picture of you Grandma and are these your jewels? What is all this?”

By DWNTWN Studios. on Unsplash

Hannah’s grandmother nearly collapsed onto a stool next to Hannah and a tear slowly rolled down her cheek. She began to sob and soon went into a full hard cry with sobbing and gasps for air in between. Hannah was horrified, she never saw her grandmother cry before and she felt paralyzed. It was all her fault. She jumped up and started pushing the jewels back into the dress and folded the picture inside the dress and put it all in the trunk and covered it with tissue paper again. She turned to her grandmother and said “We don’t have to look at that anymore, I put it away. I didn’t see anything and we never have to look at it again.” Her grandmother slowly took in a deep breath and uncovered her face and said “Hannah I… I… I can explain but I need a moment.” Hannah waited while her grandmother caught her breath and she felt like she was waiting for hours. Her grandmother turned to her and looked in her eyes and said “Hannah, you have found out our secret.” “Whose secret, Grandma?” Hannah said. “Your grandfather and my secret Hannah”. You remember the stories I told you about living through the war and how I met your grandfather, well it is true that I met him during the war but there’s more to the story. I was a Jewish girl living during the war and I am sure you know by now what happened to a woman like me during those times. I told you that I escaped and came to America but I never told you the whole story. My family had some jewels and some money and they decided they would help pay my way out of Germany with them. A family friend, a neighbor introduced my parents to a man, a young man who was making all sorts of deals at that time and he said he could help me too. We gave him two diamond rings; one was my mothers and one was my grandmothers. These were their engagement rings and they used them to protect me. The day I was leaving with this man, my mother sewed a few other jewels into my dress just in case something went wrong and I needed them to pay my way out again. They also sewed cash into my dress for my future.” At that point Grandma pulled on the ribbon on the front of the dress and behind it was a snap which she opened and she pulled a thin stack of money out of the dress. She explained to Hannah that she had hoped to pass this money onto her once she turned 21 but that she had never opened this trunk since they had packed it all in here so long ago. She told Hannah that there was $20,000 there for her future. Hannah was sitting with a confused look on her face and said “What… who did you pack this with?” Her grandmother took her hands in hers and said, “Your grandfather and I, we packed this trunk, many, many years ago. So many years ago, that I have nearly forgotten that part of my life or who I was then. Your grandfather, he was the young man who helped me to escape those many years ago, Hannah. He helped me to get out of Germany and we came here to America and were married and made our new life together. I never needed the jewels or the money because he protected me.” Now Hannah was crying, tears streaming down her cheeks. Hannah said “I always knew there was something special about Grandpa, now I know why.”

grandparents

About the author

Mary McDonald

Professor, behavior analyst, writer, artist. Her doctorate is in behavioral psychology. She works with individuals with autism and their families.

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