Unlocking the mystery of the keys

Ronda Rich's picture

At Mama’s house, which is now my office, I found a tea cup filled with keys, most of them tarnished but all of them a mystery as to what they could unlock.

Now if Mama was still with us and not basking in the glory of the Lord, I can absolutely promise you that she would have no idea where these keys belong. Three sets were on key chains, hinting of a higher level of importance.

“Ha!” I thought smugly to myself as I examined a set of glistening, new keys. “These are my house keys.” I distinctly remember giving Mama a set “in case anyone needs to get into my house while I’m traveling,” and I also distinctly remember an argument when later I asked, “Where are my house keys that I gave you?”

She shrugged nonchalantly. “I don’t know. I ain’t got no idee.”

I won’t go into the details of that energetic disagreement but suffice it to say, fuel was added to my fire because she was so unconcerned about the keys that unlock the place that holds my meager, worldly possessions.

Finally, I knew, after three years, where my keys were. When I got home, I hurried to a door and thrust the key in. My smugness disappeared when it refused to turn the lock.

That means I have 13 keys to which I have no clue as to where they belong.

How does this happen? At my own house, I am constantly finding keys that mean nothing to me. Now, once upon a time, these keys had to be necessary. They had to start or unlock something considered worthy of having a key. Yet, somehow, they find themselves in a drawer, pushed into a corner that, inevitably, when they are discovered, I peer thoughtfully at them and ask, “What on earth does this go to?”

As an aside, here’s how totally irresponsible I am with keys: I have lost the key to my front door. Now, imagine living in a house with a front door to which you have no key. There has to be something symbolic to that. I do have a key to the back door, which means that’s the way I enter and exit my house when I don’t come through the garage. Of course, it’s completely the way it should be because I’ve always been a back door girl as opposed to a front door girl. Front door is formal, back door is casual and friendly.

Now, Mama was smart about many things. She wrote notes of description and explanation on stuff, even going so far as to warn, “Wash these peas before cooking.” Yet, she never labeled a key in her life, which I have learned to do. Of course, Mama came from a different generation where people of her era never locked the door. They trusted both neighbors and strangers.

One day, I took a friend to see the small country church of my childhood, where I had rung the bells on Sunday, played Mary in the Christmas play and found both love and forgiveness. The front doors were locked. It pained my heart. “It’s so sad,” I mumbled quietly, “when church doors have to be locked.”

That’s one key you’d hate to lose, though, isn’t it?

There is good news as far as the tea cup mystery keys go. I recognized two tiny ones, both attached to the magnetic bottom of a “hide-a-key” box (why bother to hide them when you don’t know what they’re for?).

They belong to the little red diary I kept faithfully in the sixth grade when love first found me in the form of the cute, brown-eyed boy who moved to town.

“He looked at me!” I excitedly wrote once. Now, I have the keys to unlock all those lovesick words.

If only I hadn’t thrown the diary away years ago.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Flirting” and “The Town That Came A-Courtin’.” Her newest book is “What Southern Women Know about Faith.” She lives near Gainesville, Ga. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.rondarich.com.]

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