Living Outside the Box

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a box (or drawer) where I stashed special things – mementos, awards, cherished letters, souvenirs. I remember my mother storing some of her treasured objects in her piano bench; programs from plays we were in or ticket stubs from a special event. I’m still committed to finding some use for these things, like the Eeyore pendant I converted to a refrigerator magnet a few years ago.

For Christmas, last year, I pushed our boys to ask for gifts beyond “video games” and our younger son (12) raised the bar even higher when he asked for things I couldn’t just pick up at a store, among them: “a coupon book of things you’ll do for me, some sort of good luck charm, and a Christmas I will remember.”

The first thing you need to know is our son is not what I’d call a “Disney kid.” He prefers facts and history to fairy dust and fiction, so the “luck” in his good luck charm couldn’t be based on a shiny object or tall tales. [insert a movie montage of my husband and me brainstorming a list of bad ideas and almost giving up] Then, we came up with the perfect item – from a box of letters and mementos that belonged to my great uncle Bill.

20161223_170103William Hedrick (1918-2009) was my maternal grandmother’s only sibling. He was one of several Williams in our family tree, for whom our youngest son, William, is named. Bill was married, but his wife died before he did, and they had no children, so when he died photos were scanned and shared and, as keeper of the family history, I was entrusted with this box of treasures. Postcards from decades of travel, letters he and his father exchanged (mostly recapping baseball games), and all sorts of keepsakes and ephemera from 90+ years of life.

One of the first things I ever learned about Uncle Bill was that he was a World War II veteran and survived Pearl Harbor. He played cards on the USS Arizona, the night before the attack, and forgot his wallet. So, his identification, along with a picture of my then six-month-old mother, sank with the ship and remain at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

The memento we chose to turn into a “good luck charm” was a pin from his uniform cap. My husband cleaned it up and mounted it on a disc, turning it into a pendant. Our son listened respectfully as I told him about his ancestor and the meaning behind this gift. He was thoughtful for a moment, then pulled it over his head, declaring it “perfect” and, since Christmas, has only taken it off for showering or sleeping.

Because I’m always bringing new obtainium into our home, I’m pretty much always dithering over what objects to keep and what to toss. Mementos like the ones from Uncle Bill are especially difficult for me. They live in boxes, so the joy they bring is out of sight (and out of mind). The ones we put on display end up being one more thing to dust. But the idea of getting rid of them is unfathomable.

What I discovered is when I gift them to others, they take on a new layer of meaning and easily tick off the items on my personal wish list. Family history gets to live outside the box. My environmental footprint is lighter, as these objects are diverted from the landfill and I don’t give manufacturers an excuse to make more objects by not buying anything new. And “a Christmas I will remember” becomes a given, instead of a goal.

Achievement unlocked.

 

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