A Trunkful of Light

by Ann Elisa Smith

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    A real treasure awaited her in the old trunk—and it wasn’t the jewels.

    Hurrying from her car, Carole gripped her shoulders. The unexpected snowstorm had caught her wearing only a sweater for protection, and she dashed to feel the warmth of the old cottage. She shook the snow from her hair as she stood shivering on the porch, waiting for the door to open.

    Carole’s great-aunt Naomi Sweet, nicknamed “Sweetie,” peered out the door into the cold.

    “Why, Carole! Oh you dear thing, come now, get yourself out of the storm,” she said.

    Carole quickly walked into the warm front room. Boughs of pine and blue spruce curled along the entryway, and a string of gingerbread men dangled from a red ribbon, ready to be cut down and taken home by visitors. Carole smiled and drank in the fragrant smell of cinnamon and ginger, spices that always reminded her of Sweetie’s home.

    “My stars, it’s been ages since you’ve been to see me,” said Sweetie. “Oh, and I’ll bet you’re starving! Lucky thing I baked gingersnaps today—I nearly spent the day trimming the tree instead, but today was just the right day to stay in the kitchen and bake.”

    Carole sat in the old rocker and snuggled deep into the afghan lying across its back. She felt warm and secure. She had needed to escape, and this was the best cure she could imagine. College had been difficult for her, and although she had originally planned to spend the holidays working to earn more money for school, she decided to come home.

    Sweetie set a tall glass of milk and a plate of cookies beside Carole. “You remember we used to always make gingersnaps together?” Sweetie chuckled.

    Carole remembered. She had always loved coming to Sweetie’s house, making gingersnaps, drinking lemonade on the porch, planting daffodils, and going on picnics in the meadow. She had missed Sweetie while she was away at college.

    “Carole, I didn’t expect you back so soon,” said Sweetie. “I didn’t think you’d get to come home for Christmas this year. Land’s sake, I didn’t get a chance to get your gift yet!”

    Carole had been so pressured at school that she decided to come home despite the expense. The very thought of staying away at Christmastime seemed so ridiculous now that she found it difficult to imagine why she had planned to do so in the first place.

    Although Carole enjoyed school, there were some disturbing aspects of it. Her courses were intellectually stimulating, but she was required to deal with sacred texts in ways she never had before. Some of her professors discussed the Bible as being nothing more than Hebrew mythology—fairy stories. The professors were so intelligent and knew so much about such vast amounts of information, that Carole could never hold her own in any debate about religion versus history.

    Regardless of her strong and intelligent stand in defense of the sacred texts, her professors always ended up winning the discussion, and she would leave class with feelings of confusion. If the Bible was a myth, she reasoned, maybe the Book of Mormon was too. Maybe Joseph Smith was a modern myth. Carole couldn’t be certain about what she felt. But she did know one thing for sure: she no longer felt a closeness with Heavenly Father.

    “I just thought of the perfect gift for you, Carole!” said Sweetie, interrupting Carole’s thoughts. “’Course you’ll have to fetch it yourself—my legs not being what they used to be. You just get yourself up to the attic, and you’ll find it in the mahogany trunk. I know you’ll catch on to what it is when you look. Now, it’s not much, but you understand.”

    Carole hadn’t come with the intention of getting a gift, but she climbed the stairs to the attic. As she went up, she reflected on her failing testimony. It was as if she felt guilty for being in Sweetie’s home because of her uncertainty about the gospel. She wondered if Sweetie knew of her doubts and questions.

    The attic door whistled as she opened it. She felt for the small lamp that she knew was towards the right of the room. An old spinning wheel hung on the north wall, its spindle dull and tarnished. Beneath it stood an oak rolltop desk covered with a sprinkling of dust. Boxes were piled neatly along the south wall. Carole remembered helping Sweetie organize her attic clutter into those boxes.

    Carole walked past the old furniture and crates and sat down on a stool beside the old mahogany trunk under the window. Gently, she unlatched the lock and lifted the lid, releasing a musty odor of wood and paper.

    She picked up an old straw hat with a large yellow ribbon tied around it. Sweetie used to wear the hat when they picnicked in the sun. Beneath it was a bouquet of paper flowers that Carole had made in grade school on May Day. She laughed remembering how proud she had been of the sorry bunch of flowers. A packet of letters was tied with red string. Carole gently set the bundle aside.

    Next she spotted a small navy velvet box. This must have been what Sweetie wanted her to have. Carole opened the box and saw the delicate amethyst and pearl ring that she had so often admired on Sweetie’s finger. Sweetie had worn it every day until it began to hurt her fingers. Carole had always wanted the ring, and she had often asked Sweetie if she could have it, but Sweetie always said she would save it for a special day. Carole closed the box and put it into her pocket.

    Though she had found what she was looking for, Carole continued to look through the trunk, finding an old orange scarf. It had been Carole’s first attempt at knitting, and she had surprised Sweetie with it on her birthday. As Carole reached to examine her work more closely, something fell from within the scarf. She withdrew her hand for a moment, then grasped a well-worn Book of Mormon. On the cover was printed, “NAOMI STEWART SWEET.” Carole opened the book to the inside cover and read,

    To Sweetie,

    “This is a copy of the book I was telling you about. I hope you’ll read it even though you think it’s all fairy tales and wishes. Daddy says that you should read it and then pray to Heavenly Father and ask him if it’s true.

    “I’ve already read it with my family, and even though I don’t understand everything, I know I can understand more each time I read it. I think the stories have good messages, and I love the prophets that wrote them. I also love Jesus, and I want to be like him. I love you, and I want you to know Jesus like I know him.

    “With love from Carole.”

    Carole clutched the book and looked out the window at fluffy snowflakes falling in glistening crescents along the corners of the windowpanes. How could it be that she had known Jesus so much more when she was only eleven years old? Where had her love of the Savior gone? She again thumbed through the book and looked at its color-streaked pages. Sweetie had read it and read it countless times. It was not age that made the book look like an antique, but its use. Carole had brought Sweetie the gospel message, and now she felt she was letting her down by wavering in her own testimony.

    Carole began reading the marked verses and the notes written in the margins. One verse marked in yellow caught her eye, “O … the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, … wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not” (2 Ne. 9:28).

    Images of her professors and their accusations of the irrational nature of religion and of the Church flashed through her mind. Yet she felt triumphant that she had been defending what she knew deep inside was right. She continued to read, “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Ne. 9:29).

    Carole felt a flicker of hope. She was doing something good by learning at college. She just needed to keep up her study of the gospel. All at once, her guilt fled, and she realized she had a lot of work to do to get her testimony to the height it had been during her Primary days. For the first time in months, she felt happy.

    Carole quickly put everything back into the trunk and came down the stairs. Sweetie was waiting with eager anticipation.

    “Well, do you like it? Did you find the ring? I was sure you’d want it,” she smiled.

    “Oh, Sweetie, thank you. Thank you for the best present anyone has ever given me!”

    As Carole hugged Sweetie, she smelled cinnamon and ginger, and she smiled as a new feeling of hope grew inside of her.

    “Come on, Sweetie,” she said. “You’ve got a tree that needs trimming.”

    Illustrated by Cary Henrie