Tuesday, 20 August 2013 23:52

Treasure Found

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Guest Author - Jean-François de Buren

Family storytelling treasure chest family heritage pirate strongboxAmongst a trove of personal effects, both valuable and mundane, emerged a small wooden and iron strongbox.  The sort of strongbox you see bloodthirsty bandits burying in the white Caribbean sand of so many formulaic pirate films.  Visions of Black Beard and Spanish gold taken at musket point sprang to mind.  To further peak my curiosity, the key was long gone; the contents of this 17th century artifact were a mystery.


The box was my great-aunt Natalie de Büren's.  She was a passionate, mysterious and stunningly beautiful Swiss artist who was prolific in the Geneva of the 1930's, but is virtually unknown to the art community today.


I met her for the first time in 1986 in French-speaking Switzerland when she was at a nursing home.  She was still a beautiful woman, but she tragically was "lost"; the ravages of dementia slowly taking their toll.  In that afternoon meeting one thing was clear: she still cared deeply about her art.  She became visibly agitated when she pondered on who would look after her life's creative work.  It almost seemed like a plea for help.

The meeting in my mind was pre-destined.  After her passing later that year, my father was lucky enough to secure her estate and keep her work intact.  He certainly saved many or her drawings and sculptures from destruction.  He also saved one very intriguing strongbox.

family storytelling skeleton key strongboxMy father, thankfully, shared my keen interest in discovering its contents and, as he worked at a local hospital, actually had the box x-rayed.

The x-ray determined the box to be full of papers.  OK, so it wasn't gold, but maybe it was something just as valuable.  My father found someone who specialized in old locks and had a key fashioned.  After many months of anticipation the wait was over.  I would finally get to see what was inside the box.  Drumroll, please.....

Weathered love letters filled the box to overflowing.  Whe were they from?  Why were they hidden?  Placing them in a 17th century strongbox and throwing away the key seems like a deliberate act.  Not exactly like misplacing them in the top drawer of a desk.

The next step for me is to spend some time deciphering the provenance of these letters, and find out if she was simply hiding love for another, or something more.  In the end, my great-aunt gave me something more valuable than gold; she gave me a great story!

Do you have a "family heirloom" mystery?  How did you solve it?  What stories does it tell?  (For more ideas, check out our Heritage Journal.)

If you enjoyed this story by our Guest Author, you can check out more of his work at http://threebeehives.blogspot.com.


Last modified on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 11:48

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