My grandmother refused to let anyone open her dresser drawers

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

We have one rule when it comes to privacy in my family's household: there is no privacy. Interior doors don't have locks. There's no malice intended. We just don't keep secrets, especially not within our dresser drawers.

Dresser drawers are fair game for anyone. To me, this is normal. This is the way my mother raised me. If I wanted something from my mother's underwear drawer, I just went poking around in there as if I owned it.

I keep my socks in her bureau. She keeps her checkbook in my nightstand. I understand that wouldn't work for some mother-daughter duos, but it works for us.

My grandmother, on the other hand, was very particular about her dresser drawers. And all the dresser drawers in the house were her dresser drawers. It didn't matter whose room they were in or whose belongings they contained. They were within her domain.

The drawers were so organized it was almost sickening. She arranged all her belongings neatly in a single layer, and she permitted no one to open her drawers for any reason.

There was no looking in any of the dresser drawers either, because to look in them, you'd need to touch them, and there was definitely no touching them. Not even the handles.

Every morning, my grandmother opened the dresser drawers and retrieved one pair of underwear for each member of her family. No one got to choose their own underpants.

According to my mother, she grew up with a bureau in her bedroom whose drawers she'd never seen the insides of. "Your grandmother was an excellent mother," she told me, "but she had to have control over all the dresser drawers in the house."

"It's not normal not to have any drawer space in your own room. When I got married and had kids and furniture of my own, I decided anyone would be allowed to access whatever drawers they wanted."

My mother told me growing up without her own drawer space was inconvenient, and she never wanted to put her own children through that.

"Your grandmother had one large drawer that was nearly empty. I used to fantasize about what it would be like to keep some of my things in there, but it never happened. That special drawer contained one pair of scissors, one thimble, two spools of thread (one black and one white), and a single lonely needle."

Personally, I can remember my grandmother's dresser drawer that contained her sewing supplies. I can recall peering around her as she opened that drawer to retrieve her scissors. The drawer was so empty compared to the way we kept our overstuffed and under-organized drawers at home.

Just thinking about that nearly empty drawer brings back other memories of her. She kept the entirety of her apartment just as neat and clean as those drawers. I don't take after her at all.

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