Vol 13, Num 15 :: 2014.07.25 — 2014.09.04
Dents mar the round tin, chipped enamel images of cookies and bonbons reminders of what once filled it, promising sweets for some sweet woman longing for affection. Maybe it was my mother. I don’t know that part of the story. No bonbons or cookies fill this old tin now, just a few bits of jewelry, a broken gold watch — my mother’s, and I can see it now on her slender wrist, when she dressed up for church, but she’s been gone now these 40 years. I squint and read the word Bulova there under the glass, and wonder if a watchmaker could repair it before practicality sets in, and I know I would be afraid of wearing it, of damaging it, so why bother?
I see a lone earring, made of a cowry shell now looking like half of a brown eye glued onto tarnished gold posts. My father sent it to my mother during the war when he was in the Philippines. My brother has the two carved knives Daddy brought home, but like this earring, the knives rest in a drawer, saved reminders of our father’s military service, reminders that even an ocean and a war away from us, we were in his thoughts. And I wonder at the impulse that drove him to war, to protect his family by risking his life.
I pick out the oval drop earring, a cross in gold embossed into the shiny black plastic, the pair a gift from my father-in-law back when I first got married, its mate long gone, as is my father-in-law. I feel that same surprised tenderness I felt that Christmas when I opened up this gift, knowing that he had picked it out and ordered it himself, this quiet man who never shopped.
There are two tiny blue felt booties, pieces cut to mirror laced up boots, passed to me from my mother-in-law and worn by my husband six decades ago. It’s a wonder moths have not devoured these wool felt treasures, precious to me, but meaning nothing to my children. And I wonder if I might give them to a great-grandchild; I wonder if even one of my grandchildren has a sentimental streak, wide enough to treasure her grandfather’s booties, wide enough to remember we were all babies at one time, and we all have stories to tell.
Finally, I finger the beads of the pale blue necklace bought when I was in college and still in style when my oldest was born. I remember dressing up for church, wearing these beads every Sunday. Then one Sunday my first born threw up over my shoulder and onto the necklace and still, decades later the sight of this necklace brings back that memory. Jim was in the Army and we lived hours away from our family, and I learned parenting out of books and watched the chest of my tiny baby when she slept to make sure she was still alive — no e-mail or Facebook then, and in that first apartment, we did not even have a phone, but we did survive, hardy stock in those days.
There’s a tiny sand dollar in the tin. We visited my father in Florida after my mother died, and in his loneliness, he fashioned tchotchkes for snow birds to take home with them, bolo ties with sharks’ teeth and silly ducks made of glued together shells. Even now, I feel the loneliness, the hollow places my mother used to fill.
This little tin is a history of sorts, one I read and understand, but I fear those who come behind me one day will wonder why on earth I kept these worthless bits. And I remember that this tin holds my story, and those who hold it one day will probably have their own dented tin or shoebox on a shelf in their cupboard somewhere as well. It really doesn’t matter what they do with my tin. But I will keep it, and on another day of deep housecleaning, I will pull it out, and sift through the treasures and marvel at God’s good care of us all.