Sunday Afternoon Rocking

A Box for Remembering

Up the tiny cramped stairs of the tiny farmhouse we climbed, my grandfather and I. He reached back under the eaves of the house and he drew out a small wooden box. We sank down together on the steps and his gnarled wrinkled hands opened it. One by one he drew out the items, and one by one placed them in my small cupped hands that I might explore them. There were five. Gently he placed each one-by-one in my hands: a tiny iron, a double glass bottle, a blue wagon to hold salt on a table, a toothpick holder, a silver pig inside a glass ball. These he said, were what he had left of his childhood, and it was his intention that one of these items go to each of his children at his death.

The box and its contents fascinated me, and I have never forgotten the day my grandfather shared his memories with a small girl. But I was much older before the full understanding of what opening that box must have been for him.

In my closet sits a box, a metal box that actually I believe was originally intended as a box for fishing tackle. That box has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Every Saturday morning without fail, it was open on the kitchen table, and what I wanted most to do was the very thing I was not allowed to do...explore its contents. My father sat beside it, straightening out his business and paying bills, sifting through the papers that he kept inside. It was the top drawer that interested me, with little tiny bits and pieces of this and that, doo-dads that looked interesting, a tiny china cup, a campaign button, things he had kept from this or that era of his life and dropped in the box.

After I grew to adulthood, my father sensed his mortality, and told me that there was an envelope not to be opened until his death that would be found in that box. He told me it would contain all the information I needed to know to finalize his estate and affairs. I did not want to hear these words any more than any person does, and pushed them aside, trying to steer the conversation to something more pleasant. He persisted in reminding me from time to time. My father passed away not long after he told me about that envelope, and I found it exactly where he said it would be, and it smoothed the way through the unpleasant but necessary affairs to follow. For the first time, for all the wrong reasons, I had the opportunity as well as the responsibility to explore that green box. And when the reasons for doing it were over, my responsibilities taken care of, I closed it up and put it away and did not open it for many years.

The day I finally opened it there was no particular reason to do so. I simply ran across it again, and decided to open it. I opened much more than a box. Ancient and very familiar scents drifted from that box, and I saw the things inside arranged mostly as he had left them, his familiar neat print on papers, the little trinkets and doo-dads in that top compartment...and somehow I was transported to another time and another place. As surely as if my father were sitting right beside me, I felt him there as I sat with the box in my lap. There were many things all around that were evidence of his having lived, of his having been successful in many ways, of him being remembered. There were items sitting on shelves and photographs hanging on walls...but this box was all that was left in some compact and encapsulated way of "him". And everything there, from his familiar handwriting to his familiar scent was somehow in that box. Tears flooded my eyes, and I was very grateful for this very real piece of my father that I could open, not often, but often enough that each time I did it would ever be like a personal visit again with him.

I have had that feeling since, opening the remnants of lives that passed before. More recently I was given my grandfather's trunk, and carted it a couple hundred miles home, anticipation in my heart when I finally sat before it and lifted the lid. Sure enough, much as the experience with the green metal box, I found the grandfather I had lost over thirty years before in the things most important to him that he had saved in a trunk. True enough, the Old Spice was probably not there because of any sentimental value to him, but it held a special significance to the granddaughter who held it to her nose and breathed in the scent she remembered from her childhood. His Bible was there with notes in the "hen scratching" that was his familiar handwriting. There were letters to explore, some written in my own childish script from long ago, and it touched me to see how he had saved and dated each birthday and Christmas card sent to him throughout the years. There was an ancient photograph album I had never seen before and inside the cover was the inscription that told me he had treasured this Christmas gift from his own grandmother since he was a small boy. For just a little while I visited with my grandfather, touching those things that obviously were of most importance to him, breathing the scents of old paper and old things.

Those little time, or perhaps, "life capsules" were certainly never intended to be such, and simply turned out that way. But it has since come to me, knowing what pleasure I have received from having them, that perhaps we should all create a "life capsule" for our loved ones. Once that simply "happened", because most all the old timers had a trunk, something they kept things treasured in. These days we don't live out of trunks. Our things are finally distributed, sold, given away, kept...but individually and not in "capsules" that are somehow a special essence of ourselves. As I bid goodbye to loved ones that may pass before I do, I have determined to create "memory boxes", little collections of nondescript things not at all valuable, but things that will allow me a "visit" again with that person. And I have decided to create three small "life capsules" for my own children as well. Perhaps they too, will find the comfort I have known through a box and a trunk that really were never put together for the final and most comforting purpose they came to serve.

just a thought,

Copyright ©2000JanPhilpot


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Thanks, jan)