The box can be any kind of a container, really. Most of the ones I know about are small. Even smaller than a bread box, which I assume is about the size of a loaf of bread. Which makes sense to me, though I’ve never owned a box to keep bread in. The point is that you have a box.
The value of the box is not about the box itself, though often there is a personal connection to the box. I have three boxes. One is a Tupperware container that belonged to my Mama. I think she brought it over on the Mayflower when she came to this country. It’s is yellowed and scratched and chipped in few places, but it still sills up and a puff of air escapes when you burp the corner of the lid.
The two other boxes belonged to my grandmother and have the look of the old country craftsmanship about them. Both can be held in your lap. One is made like a chest of drawers. Six small drawers, small enough to be held in the palm of your hand. The other was perhaps a jewelry box. Ornate carvings. A painting of a fox hunt on the top. A mirror inside the lid, which is hinged on one side with a small latch on the front.
If you have a box, you know that the real value of the box is in its contents. You take it down off the shelf from time to time and you pull out each item one at a time. Small morsels of your existence in this world. Fragments of the things that belonged to a time that you cannot capture any other way. Memories are great, but to hold a small object in your hand that was a part of the memory is even better.
The Tupperware box contains memories of my Dad. Pocket knives with blades worn thin having been carefully sharpened by his hands over a wet stone a thousand times. A fishing lure that I saw him tie on a line with a clinch knot that I worked at until I could tie it just like him.
The chest of drawers is like having six small boxes in one. It sits on the mantle over the fireplace. I haven’t taken a look in years, but I can tell you the contents of each drawer by memory.
Top left, marbles. Tiger eyes and shooters from a time when kids drew circles in the sand and cocked their thumbs just right. I can still hear boys laughing and see all the pushing and shoving.
Middle right, folded up report cards from high school. I nearly failed English because I couldn’t write good. My spelling was terrabul. I was good at PE and Shop.
Bottom left, magnets. Which I put in my pocket and took to school with me so I could play with them during English class. Dad would bring home metal shavings from the foundry and I would put them on top of the desk, with a magnet underneath. If you moved the magnet, the shavings would make interesting patterns. More interesting than English.
Top right, Boy Scout stuff. A BSA pin. A Swiss Army knife. And a scarf slide in the shape of a right hand held up like the Scout promise. Thumb and little finger touching. Three fingers straight up. I promised to Be Prepared. To honor God and Country. And to cook bacon in an orange skin over an open fire.
The other box sits in the back room on top of the desk. Inside, there’s a pocket size New Testament with no cover on it. A whistle. An old army compass made like a nickel plated pocket watch. A sling shot that I carried around with me most every day during the latter half of the 1960s. I would have more marbles in the upper left drawer of the other box, but, well, you know. A cow will kick and hop if you tag him in the rump with a marble.
The point of the box is that it’s just fun. There’s no other reason really. Nobody else but me would keep this stuff. Anyone else would look at the content of my boxes and wonder why the old guy kept all this junk. And one day, my kids will have to go through my boxes and decide whether or not they will keep my stuff or toss it. I’m okay either way.
The reason we tell old stories and look through boxes of personal treasures that have absolutely no monetary value is that we are connected to things that have passed through our hands. I hold a pocket knife or a pair of tin snips that belonged to my Dad, and I remember things. Things that live in the corners of my mind quietly and undisturbed until I open the box. Opening the box opens the past, which in turn shapes the future.
Maybe my kids will keep a few things. I know we all keep something. Maybe they will use my box after I’m gone. But, whatever you do, get a box. Put little pieces of your life in it. And every now and then take it down off the shelf and hold in your hand the things that remind you of the things you value most. The box will become one of the more priceless things you own.
I would bet the farm that you are thinking about reaching for your box right now. Have fun.