Inside Pandora's Cigar Box
Some months ago, I made a trip to our storage unit. The climate-controlled, 6x12 foot locker that holds the last, unclaimed remnants of my childhood home. The stuff that was too good for the dump and not enticing enough for my brothers and I to claim. The parking space for items we couldn’t figure out what to do with. These are our belongings in limbo.
My mission that day was to collect something precious – plastic bins of memorabilia: photo albums of old, ethnic people who are now dead for half a century or more; more recent pictures of my children dressed in a variety of mammal costumes; and everything in between.
There were a lot of bins.
My mother was a keeper. Not a hoarder, but a keeper. She kept every Valentine’s Day card I ever sent her, every letter from camp, every report card. Since she lacked the organizational skills to preserve these memories in any predictable pattern, sorting through those bins was overwhelming. I stacked them in the corner of my living room for weeks. No, months.
Eventually I needed the space, so I readied myself to open those boxes and find a more permanent home for their contents – or jettison those items that no longer had value. What an extraordinary adventure that was.
Nestled on top of a shoebox of old slides printed on glass, I found a brown cardboard cigar box, decorated with cut-out pictures of jewelry and her initials. Inside it I found:
3 postage stamps – two of JFK (5 cents) and one of the first man walking on the moon (10 cents);
3 jigsaw puzzle pieces;
1 melted plastic knob;
A playbill from Nine Armenians, by Leslie Ayvazian;
A hospital bill dated November 28, 1956, in which final payment due for having a baby – including circumcision –came to $48.19;
A pair of white gloves;
My grandfather’s prescription pad (Telephone: Flushing 3-5200);
Correspondence and newspaper clippings;
My maternal grandfather’s social security card;
My mother’s certificate of baptism;
My father’s certificate of completing naval officer training at Tufts University (1944);
Random photographs taken over the course of a century;
A temporary driver’s license from the Virgin Islands, expiring in 1975;
A love letter;
And two locks of my mother’s hair: one in a white envelope written in my grandmother’s pre-arthritic hand, marked, “Grace’s first haircut, March 17, 1929.” The second my father clipped from my mother the morning she died, on June 27, 2006.
I discarded the driver’s license, the melted knob, the jigsaw puzzle pieces. Since the owner of the social security card is now gone for more than 60 years, I threw that away, too. But the remainder of the contents are safely tucked in the box: the love letter unread, the newspaper clippings inexplicably preserved. The locks of hair.
The cigar box and its contents will live to tell their stories.