One of the drawers in my bedroom is filled with socks. In the back of that drawer, buried behind those socks is a green and orange lacquered box which was carved and painted by my father many years ago. It is chipping and old and the clasp that keeps it closed is on the verge of breaking. On the top of the box my father drew a unicorn. On the front is an angel. On one side there is the face of the family dog from that time, an Airedale. On the other side are two sheep (I cannot remember why, if there even was a reason, probably because I was an animal lover), and on the back of the box it says “Love Story”, with the faces of a boy and a girl who are supposed to be me and my then high school boyfriend. The boy’s face looks like he did, the girl does not look like me at all. Hopefully – wishfully – I just checked the bottom of the box (again) to see if he had signed or inscribed it, as if I could magically make that happen. I knew he hadn’t. I am sorry that he never did, as now he is gone.
When my father gave me this gift, I collected up all the mementos I had saved at the time and put them in that box. Over the years I have added to it periodically, although it is now so full that it barely will close. It is an assortment of varied and poignant articles, mostly from childhood but not totally. Tonight I was putting some things away and found something I wanted to add to the box, so I dug it out, and of course, got lost in those memories once again.
At the bottom of the box, covered by a piece of maroon velvet, are some notes and letters. One, a valentine from my high school boyfriend, reads “Although the road was long, although the going was tough, you’re still my valentine after 2 1/2 years of your stuff.” Actually, he had spelled valentine wrong and there was no punctuation. There is a little drawing of Jerry Garcia’s face at the bottom of it (he was a serious Dead Head). I laughed seeing it again, just as I have every time I have come across it. We had dated for a few years. He put up with my “stuff”. That boyfriend tragically died later on, when he was in his thirties.
There is the newspaper clipping want ad from a job I was hired for thirty-some-odd years ago, as a veterinary technician. Airmail letters from another relationship, luring me across the ocean. Love letters from the man who later became my husband and many years later not my husband anymore – letters that I found so incredibly moving still, after all these years, that my throat tightened and had to wonder sadly “what happened?”.
There is a telegram that was sent to me when I lived abroad with a message that is made of the stuff you see in movies.
The birth announcements for each of my children.
And a card with such sweet, promising words that had accompanied the gift of a beautiful string of pearls, from a fiance who eventually became corrupt, leaving me to wonder if any of his words had ever really been true.
A Polaroid photograph of the S.O. and myself taken by one of the kids, which used to grace our refrigerator door – the first photo of us together (and one of the few where he is actually cooperating and smiling).
On top of the paper items sit a variety of small objects. A sample of what is contained within:
A tiny valentine made by my youngest sister, then a child, and a paper ring made as a gift by another little sibling long ago.
The ID tags from the collars of beloved dogs.
A little red plastic fish change purse that my mother had given me when she returned home after a long hospital stay, the blue fins having broken off long ago. Inside that change purse is the key to my first car and the key to my first apartment. The key to the first apartment was red because in my youth I thought having a red key was such a hot thing to do.
Polished rocks my little brother made in his rock tumbler when he was a boy (I can still remember my mother complaining about the ongoing noise as that thing ran 24-hours a day).
A scrap of fabric from the living room curtains of a little magic cottage in the woods I once lived in.
Shells collected on various beaches. Keys to diaries long gone. A small license plate with my name on it from the 1963 World’s Fair. A postcard sent to me from Japan, wishing I was there too. A cast bronze peanut from an art foundry I once worked at. A tiny plastic daisy decal I wore glued on to my face around 1969.
A small sample vial of perfume that my mother used to keep in a box in her drawer. She didn’t wear that scent and never used it – and neither have I.
A rock shaped like a heart. A pistachio shaped like a heart. Beach glass, some shaped like hearts.
One of my favorite things is a small, smooth, turquoise colored stone that my father used to keep in what must have been his own memory box on top of his dresser. I had always wondered what it had meant to him, the story, but I never found out.
A peach pit that I had smoothed flat by rubbing it over and over on the pavement when I was a kid, with plans to cut out the center and make a ring (I never did).
A bullet that a boy sitting in front of me in high school physics class gave me. I had thought it was so cool at the time. He never really talked to me but he gave me this bullet, like a prize. I wonder if he had liked me – or maybe not liked me. I was so shy back then….
Newspaper clippings listing the winners of a few horse shows, of which I came in second place, third place and sixth. Seeing these brought memories of how I had thrown out the winning ribbons, coinciding with my heightened aversion to competition. At the same time I also threw out my high school diploma coinciding with my aversion to high school. One earring worn to my senior prom, which I really didn’t want to attend but did because I felt I had to prove something. There had been a lot of aversions and subsequent purging during those years.
A silver necklace of wings and a tan-colored center stone bought in Provincetown, back in the days when P-Town was a hippie haven. The vendor swore, subject to suspicion, that it was “mastodon ivory.” We camped out on the beach, got bitten by sand fleas, had the most delicious fish soup with friends.
Puppy teeth from two of my dogs. One wisdom tooth that was mine, removed in Oregon. A tooth with a gold filling which is not mine.
My wedding ring, which was a silver and turquoise Hopi band, with a nick in it from the time I fell off a step stool and the ring caught on a metal kitchen cabinet, in the farm carriage house we lived in long ago.
Subway tokens of various sizes (now obsolete). Foreign coins and foreign phone tokens, also obsolete. My roller skate key from the Chicago Skate Company, a relic. My grandmother’s pink-gold ring from Switzerland that she wore as a girl, sans stone. She had told me it once had a green Peridot stone in it. I always meant to get one to restore it but hadn’t. And the ring is too big for me.
A necklace made of cloves. An IUD.
A ducky diaper pin from the diapers of my first baby.
The gift note from the favor bag on the table at my daughter’s wedding.
A small plastic black cat from off a bottle of wine or liquor that my father had tossed at me while we sat at a table after having fondue, saying “here, Strega”.
A ticket stub from a Jackson Browne concert. A holy card with a guardian angel on it. A tiny clay bear made by a sibling. A wine cork.
Hair. Mine when I cut it off, my children’s golden locks, my mother’s when she died, somebody’s hair entwined with red thread – whose? – used in a long ago magic spell?
A tiny turtle, a plastic bunny, a little duck. A holy medal that my grandmother had secretly pinned to my mattress, to protect me from harm. A poem about nature from my daughter to my mother.
These are only some of the items in that box, which is not very large and yet holds a lifetime of emotions and events. Looking at each object took me to places both good and not so good. It was a re-examination of a deeply personal journey. What was important right then, what was happening at the time these objects were put into the box, who they were attached to, what their story was. Some of these things made me smile and some brought about a wrench in the chest, an ache of the heart, some tears. There are items in the box connected to events that required emotional processing, and those things took time. Over the years I have removed and discarded a few of those hot items from the box attached to issues that have since been resolved and purged. Surely there are people who would say “Why do you hold on to that crap?”, but in some ways I think The Memory Box has been therapeutic.
It has occurred to me that my children will not know or possibly care what is in my Memory Box, why these things have been kept all these decades, what they meant to me; much the same way I never knew why my father kept the blue stone or my mother had that little sample of unused perfume saved. I wish I had known the myriad events that made my parent’s stories. I wish they were here to sit with me and tell me the tales of the things they saved in their top drawer, in a dish on their dresser, in a little container. The Memory Box is really just a physical manifestation of what we lock away internally. Each of these small moments that shape our lives is another fiber to our weave, another pearl lost in time.