Mrs. Smith taught me how to "keep house" as she used to say. And, she taught me how to "stash my loot for safe-keeping". Even though I didn't have any "loot" as a kid, I learned from a master and have put her lessons to good use in my own home today.
I was 13 when I met Mrs. Smith. (I first told you about my dear friends Mr. and Mrs Smith here.) Every Saturday for years we spent four hours together cleaning and doing chores around her house.
She had a gorgeous collection of handmade oriental rugs covering beautiful hardwood floors throughout her house. Each week, I'd dust the floorboards, on my hands and knees, then I'd vacuum the rugs using the small attachment generally reserved for drapery cleaning. She said we cleaned this way to protect the workmanship for the rugs which were easily a hundred years old and the original wood floors circa 1930-ish.
We were fast friends and I looked forward to our time together. After about six weeks of Saturdays, Mrs. Smith trusted me enough to start peeling back her rugs to share the "loot" she'd hidden under the padding. I'm here to tell you, it was a wealth of booty and mementos from the Smith's long, happy marriage.
They were world travelers and Mrs. Smith was a "saver". Tucked under the rugs were stunning hand written menus from luxury ocean liner trips across the Atlantic, cocktail menus from some of the finest restaurants and night clubs of old New York City, telegrams and opera playbills from Italy, and love letters from Mr. Smith to name a few.
She called them her "flat treasures" and it took two full years before we'd peeled back all of the rugs and talked about all of the items and where they'd been collected from. Some were dated in the early 1900s and a few items were passed on to Mrs. Smith from her mother.
The hidden loot was a big secret that I felt privileged to be trusted with. I always smiled when folks would pay Mrs. Smith a visit and comment on the beautiful rugs. With a wink, she never let on that her guests were walking on worldly treasures.
Once we worked our way through all the rugs in the house-- nearly 20 as I recall, I was introduced to the "secret sofa". Mrs. Smith's sofa belonged to her late mother. The mahogany carved wood with rose velvet upholstery was usually draped with a sheet to "protect it from the sun" because it was close to a hundred years old.
Thinking about it now, I didn't even know what color the sofa was for the entire first year I knew her-- It was that well covered and "protected" giving the living room a don't-sit-on-the-furniture warning.
On this particular Saturday, it was time to move and clean behind the sofa. That's when I discovered the "secret". Behind the sofa, on the beautiful mahogany, was a long row of small nails, each exactly an inch and a half apart. (Mr. Smith was an engineer and his attention to detail was legendary.)
On the nails hung Mrs. Smith's impressive collection of fine jewelry. From diamond and emerald rings to pearl and sapphire necklaces, her lovely and quite valuable collection of jewels hung out of sight on the back of sofa in "a safe place".
Mrs. Smith was sure, no one would ever look behind her sofa for "the loot". And fortunately, in the 30+ years she lived in the house, she was right.
One by one, I heard the story behind each cherished piece of jewelry and how they came to be Mrs. Smith's. Some were family heirlooms, others "tokens of affection" from Mr. Smith throughout their marriage. With few exceptions, she never wore the jewelry but she loved showing it to me.
But it was the small, beautifully wrapped gift box, the kind you can lift the wrapped lid off without tearing the paper, that amused me the most. Inside the gift box was several hundred dollars in cash-- Mrs. Smith's "emergency loot". On the box was a card addressed "To Little Billy - Love, Auntie Mary".
Here's the thing-- Mrs. Smith's first name wasn't Mary and she didn't know anyone named Billy. The package was wrapped and addressed this way because she didn't want a robber to know her real name. And, she was positive, no self-respecting robber would steal a wrapped present for a little boy. I kid you not. She actually used the words "no self-respecting robber"!
Before living in the house, Mrs. Smith honed her "loot stashing" skills by living in fancy hotel suites for extended periods of time with Mr. Smith while he was a project engineer on huge construction jobs. Yes, she kept some things in the hotel's safe but she also figured out that people by nature, generally do not pull back rugs, move sofas or "swipe" wrapped packages when a hotel suite was being cleaned.
So when Mrs. Smith settled into her own house, she took things one step further and incorporated her unique, do-it-yourself-security-system and stashed her "loot" in plain sight, under foot, and behind furniture.
And for the record, she laughed at the notion of hiding her jewelry in the freezer. She thought that was too obvious and easy to find.
Today, in my home, I have several area rugs on our wood floors. Although the great art of hand written menus is long past, I've managed to accumulate numerous "flat treasures" that I walk on every day.
A few months ago, when Godson turned 13 years old, I repeated the tradition and started peeling my rugs back to share my loot with him. I have some of his first grade artwork, a couple of cool showbiz award programs, an autographed movie poster, and newspaper articles with Beloved husband quoted. It's no where the quantity of "loot" Mrs. Smith had under her rugs, but they are my bigger items that lend themselves to being flat. And, Mrs. Smith had a 65 year head start on me so I'm confident I'll eventually catch up.
Do I have a small gift wrapped box addressed to "Billy" with my emergency cash? Not exactly, but I do have something very similar. As for my jewelry hanging from the back of my sofa-- No way, not even with our security alarm system. Sadly, times have changed a little too much for me to be comfortable with that. But I truly enjoy walking around on my "flat loot" every day.
Are you a treasure saver?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna Jenkins