Memaw’s Trunk

Memaw’s Trunk  – by Jill Printzenhoff

top view before

“Why do you want this?”

I looked at my husband as if he were crazy to ask such a question. “Because it was my grandmothers,” I replied.

“What are you going to do with it?” He queried further as we hoisted the beat up multicolored chest into the back of the van.

“I don’t know. Refinish it, maybe.”

“But where are you going to put it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Where’s it going to go in the house?”

“I don’t know. The basement. The garage. Someplace.”

messed up trunk

“But why do we need to haul a beat up piece of furniture from Texas to Pennsylvania?” He asked as a look of annoyance flashed across his face.

“Because it was my grandmothers. She wanted me to have it, and this may be my only chance to take it home with us,” I stated unapologetically.

I doubt any part of my side of that conversation was logical to my husband. The chest was in rough shape, but I was convinced that with some TLC it would look amazing. However, I wasn’t sure we would actually get it to Pennsylvania.

Our van was already loaded with a month’s worth of luggage and personal items. (Yes, when a family has two teenagers, someone is bound to over pack for a ten-day trip. On this trip, I think we all over packed). Added bags from shopping excursions and trinkets from sightseeing hogged more space. Stuffing the cedar chest with luggage and our recent purchases was the only way to make room in the van for the large piece of furniture.

After a two-day journey home, we unloaded the cargo. The chest was pushed to a corner in the garage with the promise of a future detail. Unfortunately, days turned to weeks that turned to months, and time along with life ran full speed ahead. Needless to say, the trunk sat in the garage until a year later when movers arrived and loaded it onto a truck to be hauled to our new location.

When the moving truck pulled up to our new house in NY, two of the guys eventually emerged from the back of the rig with the chest in tow.

Pre refurbished

“Where would you like this?” They asked.

“Put it down in the basement,” I stated flatly, and then continued the conversation in my head. I will refinish that trunk this summer.

A few weeks later we were gearing up to paint the girls rooms. As I surveyed the paint selection at Sherwin Williams, I found myself wandering towards the stains.

“Do you want to get something to stain the trunk?” asked my husband.

“I’m thinking about it,” I responded unconvincingly.

While I wanted to stain that trunk, I knew our primary focus should be the girl’s room.

“I probably need to strip it before I stain it.” I tossed that sentence more to the air than to any particular individual.

My husband looked at me, his eyes giving heed that he heard my comment and was weighing my words for their hidden meaning.

getting prepped

Leaving the paint store, we hauled to the car several gallons of paint plus one container of stripping solution. A few days later I began to refurbish Memaw’s cedar chest.

scraping off the googoo coming off

After hours of applying the stripping solution and scraping off old paint, the time came to sand the wood.


Both tasks were dirty jobs, and the sawdust from sanding covered everything in the garage, including me.

one big mess

The prep work was labor intensive, but finally, the time came to stain the wood. I decided to go with a walnut stain, which gave the wood a deep dark color. Unfortunately, I was too impatient with this process and didn’t wait long enough for the wood to dry properly before prompting my husband to apply the varnish. As a result, I had to start all over with stripping and sanding.

staining end

With that task completed a second time, I consulted with my husband, and we decided the trunk would look best if we left it a natural color. This time though, to alleviate the humidity factor (which is one reason the stain didn’t dry properly the first time), I applied the varnish in the house instead of the garage. Finally, the cedar chest was refurbished on the outside, so I tackled cleaning the inside.

Looking closely at Memaw’s trunk, one would notice several imperfections. There are some dings and scrapes that I purposefully did not smooth out during the sanding process. Furthermore, I left some of the old paint colors. Why would I do this? Why would I take hours to refurbish a beat up piece of furniture only to leave some of its former self peaking through the varnish?

finished with flaws

There are two reasons, but the one I want to share in this post has to do with my grandmother. By keeping some of the former colors, I have a way to view something she not only touched, but also something she cared for, and at one time, refurbished. Furthermore, she kept some of her greatest treasures on, and in that cedar chest. The chest, the colors, and even the rough patches all remind me of her. I don’t ever want to forget my grandmother, an incredibly amazing woman of strength and courage.


As we moved the refurbished chest to the basement, I marveled at the finished project. Now part of the downstairs décor, the trunk serves a dual purpose – coffee table, and blanket storage. Any time we need a blanket we head to Memaw’s trunk. With every creak of the lid, I picture her opening the trunk, reaching in, grabbing a blanket, and searching for the grandkid who needs some warmth – warmth that’s found in a blanket from Memaw’s trunk.

It’s your turn.  What item or memory of your grandparent(s) do you treasure?  I’d love to hear from you.


2 thoughts on “Memaw’s Trunk

  1. So beautiful, Jill!! So many memories. I love that we spent every Sunday together, playing games, going for walks, riding down the lane on the lawnmower Papa fixed for us, playing games and letting Memaw cheat! Food and family! Miss that a lot! Love you:)


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