I’ve been thinking a little about hope chests after reading a short story of Eudora Welty’s last night, titled Lily Daw and the Three Ladies.
Lily is a simple-minded character, not only in the sense that she is unwise in the ways of the world, but in the sense that she’s not ‘all there’. There’s just something ‘not quite right’ about Lily, and while Lily doesn’t seem to know or care about her shortcomings, the entire small Southern town in which she lives does everything it can to protect Lily from the world and from herself.
Especially the ‘three ladies’ who’ve made plans for Lily’s life—and though it’s not said in so many words, it appears they plan to send Lily to some kind of institution, the kind of place that takes care of those unable to care for themselves. And when they discover that Lily is planning to marry some traveling man who they just know has taken advantage of poor Lily’s innocence, who they just know has fed poor Lily a line about marriage to have his way with her, they take off in a conniption fit to save poor Lily from herself. Like three cruise missiles built in the name of protection, I wondered if Lily’s three protectors wouldn’t instead inflict destruction on their path of salvation. It takes some convincing to get Lily to finally abandon her own plans to go along with the plan of her three defenders, but go along she does. With one condition — that her hope chest goes with her.
Well…you’ll just have to read the short story for yourself to find out how it all ends. But its easy to see why Eudora Welty was considered a master of the short story, with all the lovely and true nuances of everyday life she’s able to pack into eight short pages. I went to sleep thinking about hope chests. And woke up remembering my own that I began as a young teenager. Thinking of my own two daughters, I wonder if this tradition of young girls sitting aside treasured pieces for a future hasn’t just shriveled up and died. But then possessing hope for a good future goes hand in hand with those who are young and have no reason to believe any different, even without a chest.
So then I turned to those who are no longer young, like my daddy, with his own set of launched cruise missiles that call themselves ‘home health.’ With Daddy banging himself up from his many falls, home health has recommended we put Dad into a nursing home. My sister and I know ‘they’ have the best of intentions, and that maybe these words have to be said to avoid later threats of medical malpractice, but Daddy would shrivel up and die quicker in a nursing home than if left to his unsafe self in his unsafe home.
Nursing homes may be safe – more or less– but they’re also sterilized of all hope. Both my granny and papa died in a nursing home within their first month of calling it home and we’ve no reason to believe it would be any different with Dad. After all, what sounds good in theory and in intention doesn’t always prove itself true when it comes to everyday practice and reality.
Even simple-minded Lily knew she couldn’t let go of her hope chest. And by ignoring the dooms day threats from all the cruise missiles flying around us and Daddy, maybe my sister and I are just tying to offer Daddy a bunker filled with hope and a future. At least for now, while we can.
I think I’ll keep Eudora’s collection of short stories on my nightstand. Who knows but that The Collected Stores of Eudora Welty aren’t a treasure chest in their own right.