by Don Tassone
He was on his way home from baseball practice when he spotted it between the Asher’s garbage cans and the curb. It was a wooden box, about two feet long, a foot and a half wide and a foot and a half deep. It had a brass handle on top, two brass latches on the front and three brass hinges on the back.
The boy skidded to a stop and and hopped off his bike for a closer look. Squatting down, he flipped up the latches and pulled back the lid. There was nothing inside except for a sheet of mottled, yellowed paper along the bottom. He closed the lid, refastened the latches and picked it up by the handle. It was heavy.
He’d been looking for a box to store some of his stuff. This one might do nicely, he thought. The boy rode his bike home and walked back down the street to the Asher’s. He felt a little funny taking it. But there it was, out on the curb on garbage night. Free game. He grabbed the box and carried it home.
“What do you have there, Bobby?” his mother asked, as he lugged it through the back door.
“Just a box,” he said, setting it down on the braided, wool rug in the center of the family room.
“Where’d you get it?”
“I found it out with the Asher’s garbage.”
“And you want to keep it?”
“I want to put my stuff in it.”
“My important stuff.”
“Well, like my ball glove and my baseball cards. You know, my important stuff.”
“Let me have a look,” his mother said, squinting her eyes and kneeling down beside it. Bobby got down on one knee next to her and opened it. His mother peeked inside.
“It’s dirty. If you want to keep this, you’re going to have to clean it first.”
“Okay, Mom. What should I use?”
“Well, that looks like pretty good wood. Walnut, I think. I’ve got some wood soap. You can use that.”
Bobby ripped the dingy paper from the bottom and scraped off several spots of crusty glue with a putty knife. Then he scrubbed the box inside and out. He even found some brass polish in the garage to shine up the fixtures.
His mother bought some blue felt to line the inside of the box. She helped him measure it, cut it and glue it to the bottom and the sides. His father applied a coat of varnish to the outside. Bobby was thrilled to see the wavy grain of the wood come to life.
Then he began gathering his treasures and carefully placing them inside. Beyond his ball glove and baseball cards, he put in his coin collection; a red, scale-model 1939 Chevy; a metal Band-Aid box with $7.26; a cast-iron cap gun; a Hershey bar; his Cub Scout handbook; his First Communion rosary; a geode he had found in Mammoth Cave; and a penny postcard his cousin Bill had mailed him from California.
Bobby’s dad was a printer. He made him a sticker for his new box that read: “Bobby’s Most Important Things.” Bobby happily affixed it to the top. As he got older, the box got crowded, filling up with trophies and yearbooks. Bobby had to constantly rearrange things to get them to fit.
He tried to wedge in his mortar board and diploma from his high school graduation, but they just wouldn’t fit. So he jettisoned his baseball cards. When he got married, he brought the box with him. He needed room for special gifts from his wife. So his cap gun and coin collection had to go.
Once he started a family, he had to lose his old ball glove and the Chevy to make room for his kids’ drawings and birthday and Father’s Day cards. He kept all his children’s high school and college graduation programs. So his own diplomas had to go.
When he retired, he gave up his high school yearbooks to create a slot for a hefty plaque from his company. When his first granddaughter was born, he carved out a new space for her pictures. Same with grandchildren number two, three and four. To make room, he ditched his retirement plaque.
He began to save Mass cards from his friends’ funerals.
When his parents died, within a year of each other, he added their framed wedding picture. To make room, he gave up his last baseball trophy.
When his wife passed away, he got rid of everything but their wedding picture and her ring. Then he scraped off the sticker his father had made for him so long ago. It was no longer legible anyway. Now he is 89 years old. He still has the box. The other day, he was showing it to his great granddaughter. He opened the lid, and she peeked inside.
“It’s empty, Grandpa.”
“I know. I’ve given everything away. Emma, would you like to have this box?”
“Oh, Grandpa! I’d love it! I have so many things I want to put in it.”
Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University in Cincinnati. His stories have appeared in a range of literary magazines. They’re posted at http://dontassone.com