The grafting trunk

The clickety-clack of my great-grandmother’s ‘old lady shoes’[1] resonated as I toddled after her down the narrow hallway to the old trunk. There, in that back bedroom she and I would sit in the dark brilliance of polished woods, with the old trunk somehow beckoning us as if the face of some minor deity or oracle. Indeed, my great-grandmother treated the old trunk as if it held all the wonders of the world, which, in many ways, it certainly did (and still does…). While I was far too young to understand “it all,” still I would watch her as she carefully opened up the old trunk and filed through its many layered accoutrements. Occasionally, I found her smiling with pride or joy; more often than not, she coughed back an inevitable tear.

My great-grandmother with her daughter Katheryn in 1915.

And, yes, she was the only great-grandmother I ever knew, she, an eighth-generation descendant of William Bradford’s. Say what you will about the course of adoptions and such things, about the sanctity of the old holy bloodlines, and about how being only legally related to her somehow negates my ties to her – and to the old trunk – and I will cry balderdash, and probably call you a flibbertigibbet, as I am ever mindful of the wards in Governor Bradford’s original household.[2]

And while I have wandered many years on my quest for her daughter’s (and my grandmother’s[3]) biological ties (seeking at every corner to find some sort of cosmic understanding or justice in it all) … I only have to look at the old trunk to see the truth of where I have truly come from. In the end they were Mrs. Ogle’s choices that mattered. It was she who grafted us onto her tree – forming not so much a new branch, but rather a newly grafted trunk.

It goes without saying that her old trunk is dear to my family. Where it came from originally I don’t think anyone ever really knew. Somewhere in Kansas, I guess – shortly after the Civil War, I suppose. I think back about those days in the early 1960s and of being shown its contents. I wonder sometimes if it was some sort of a dream.

To open the trunk was unthinkable! It was not an option.

The years passed for my great-grandmother just as they do for anyone of us. By 1970, the ever stolid trunk had passed into my grandmother’s hands. It traveled with my grandmother much as it had done with her mother, somehow always moving, making its journeys with its contents bound up and ever secret. Still we did not open the trunk. To open the trunk was unthinkable! It was not an option. My grandmother safeguarded her mother’s trunk with a lion’s ferocity. No, the trunk remained closed with its keeper (in this era, my grandmother) only removing certain objects (an antique doll comes to mind) on very special occasions – usually at the birth of a new generation: a new graft.

A little over two decades ago the trunk passed into my father’s hands. Through the often misaligned rules of primogeniture, it was to be his for safekeeping, and it is his now. The same rules certainly apply. After all, who would go against one’s mother and grandmother and not have to answer for it in the next life?

Yet, as with all family stories there comes a time for true confession. You see, a little over ten years ago my father became very ill. He was dying, and might have died if not for an operation that saved his life. At this point I need to mention what you may have already surmised – as an extension of my great-grandmother’s world, I have always felt intensely possessive about the trunk. For me, the old trunk might well serve as a time portal back to the signing of the Mayflower Compact … and given those same laws of primogeniture … well, you can see where I might be going with this.

So one night, when dad was very ill, my sisters and I gathered around the old trunk. It spoke to us! I swear it did. It spoke to the inner child in each one of us. It spoke to our graying middle-aged selves. It said, “Which one among you will open me to see what has been hidden away for the last 130 years or so? Your father is ill. He is not here…”

And we opened the lid – the lid of the old “grafted” trunk. The secrets were deep, and they seemed to exhale their dusty contents as we touched (yes, touched!) the layered contents. My sisters and I were bedeviled! No one ever opened the trunk! What were we doing?

We made our way through the old trunk’s contents, barely, coming out and closing it up while we still had “our skins” intact. The contents were just too deep. Florid love letters, portraits, eulogies, locks of hair, odd knickknacks … it didn’t seem to end. We had to close it up. We had danced too long in the dangerous moonlight. Fortunately, my dad soon recovered. We confessed our transgression to him; he grimaced as we did. Not another word of it was spoken.

So the old trunk sits and waits. My plan is that someday it shall come to me, the first son of its first son whose mother was the only daughter of–– I know that if the house were to catch fire (God forbid) we would all run to save Great-Grandmother’s trunk. It’s in all of our blood – the blood that comes from a grafted family tree.


[1] Mary Elizabeth (Kraus) Ogle (1886–1970).

[2] Kieran Doherty, William Bradford Rock of Plymouth (Brookfield, Conn.: Twenty-First Century Books, 1999), 137.

[3] Katheryn Elizabeth (Ogle) Record (1914–1993).

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.View all posts by Jeff Record