Licton Springs Review

Noxzema By Cindy Simmons

I was promised the Lane cedar chest, the hope chest. It was early. I was up because my bed was the big brass one at the top of the stairs, and the first person who stirred woke me up, too. Usually that was Granny. The wood stove in the kitchen heated the whole house through a series of ducts my granddaddy designed long before electricity or gas heat or even trucks full of propane came to western Virginia. He wasn’t dead then, but he might as well have been. He’d been locked away in the state home for twenty years.

I was maybe ten that summer, George Allen’s second and the first girl. Granny loved me for that, for being a girl in a house full of hunters and loggers and mad inventors. Granddaddy had built seven bedrooms, but I preferred the brass bed at the top of the stairs. The brass tubes of the headboard rose like the pipes of the organ in our church at home. Somebody’s honeymoon fancy, too big to fit through any of the bedroom doors. It was taller than any bed I’d ever seen, even in museums. We’d jump on it, parachute off it, collapse in giggling heaps underneath it. But when it was time to go to sleep, my brothers surrendered the brass bed to me. It was a girl thing. They knew it.

That morning Granny was still in her green nighty and matching see-through housecoat. She got everything by catalog, including the Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog. She called me into her bedroom and pulled the quilts off the top of the Lane cedar chest at the foot of her bed.

I could smell the Noxzema on her face as she leaned in close. “Do you know what that is?”

“It’s your hope chest.”

I fingered the cushioning built into the top. It was a pea green print made to look like cross stitch, which was funny because Granny could have embroidered one much nicer, and she would have used more than one color.

“I want you to have it when I die. It’s your legacy.”

The hard thing about being ten is that you both understand things and you don’t. I understood that this manufactured box, with its fake embroidery seat, was much more valuable to Granny than the desk and chairs and dining room set Granddaddy had made by hand out of the local oak. I understood that passing it to me was a crowning of sorts, a statement that I would one day want to get married and embroider top sheets and pillow cases to go in my hope chest. And by giving me her hope chest, Granny was saying she had confidence that I would be clever enough to feed a whole house full of hunters off a wood stove, that I would be famous for my biscuits instead of my pancakes because with biscuits they can each eat when they wake up, instead of pancakes that everybody pretty much has to sit down together for or you’re at the stove all morning.

I knew all that she was saying, but I was also a kid. I said, “No, Granny, you’re not going to die.” And then I remembered the stroke, so I changed it to, “You’ll dance at my wedding, Granny. You’ll still be keeping your long underwear safe from moths in that cedar chest when I start hoping.”

She winked at me because she knew I understood. “Just remember: When I die, you get the hope chest.”

Granny knew her children too well. After the second stroke, one of them took a pipe out of the brass bed’s headboard. I remember running up the giant, oak staircase that year, and when I got to the top of the stairs, the headboard smiled like it was missing a tooth.

Mom said Betty probably took it so none of the uncles would want the bed when Granny passed. Dad said, “You can’t prove that, so just shut up.”

It turned out that was the last summer of jumping on the big brass bed. Dad stepped out and then he left mom. She got us kids, and we didn’t go to Virginia any more.</p> <p>Granny and I wrote letters, but it wasn’t the same. After the next stroke, she had to dictate them to Betty, and Betty took all the gossipy stuff out, or maybe Granny didn’t want to say that stuff for Betty to write down.

When Granny died, Mom called my dad and told him to make sure I got the hope chest, that Granny had said it was supposed to go to me. It never arrived. Mom said Dad wouldn’t even ask Betty where it was. I told Mom I didn’t care. In truth, I didn’t want to get married. I went to the drugstore, though, and bought a jar of Noxzema. I think about Granny every morning when I smell that clove oil smell. Some things you don’t need your family to give to you. Some things you can buy yourself.