My life in boxes

17 Aug

storage-box-johnlewisI live with boxes; all shapes and sizes, ranging in decoration and made from varying materials. Shabby cardboard or vulgar plastic ones, hidden under beds or the back of cupboards; others proudly decorative and disguised as hatboxes displayed on shelves; a couple more perhaps wooden, large enough to claim place as pieces of furnishing in their own right. Each is replete with my percieved valuable collections of stuff. Such stuff could be ornaments, trinkets, magazine clippings, old letters, certificates even, some papers, many photographs, souvenir tickets, programmes, t-shirts, a tartan jacket (the shame), a guide beret, and school reports. Together they form the edited patchwork of a life at times mostly ordinary. They are my keepsakes, signature notes of my past carefully selected and tidied into order according to life event. It is satisfying to categorise memories and mementoes I find.
Of course in my living today life, I try to downsize: I computerise financial and work records, aim for a paperless home office, become more ruthless about storing kids out-grown toys and hand-me-downs and avoid brimful cupboards which spill open but won’t close again. I’ve chucked out shoes I’ve coveted but never wear (well most of them), single earrings, too-small-frocks, dubious books with torn covers… BUT, I fully intend to retain my stores of real precious-es and hope the sides of a structured box will save them whole, undamaged, undiminished. But for when and who I ask?
My wedding box I opened recently to show my eldest son. Inside, among the place cards, present lists and thank-you letters, pressed flowers and service sheets, Alfie and me found several boxes of saved wedding cake; the juice seeped through to stain the cream cardboard. We munched a piece of the chewy but remarkably stlll edible contents and I hoped he sensed the importance of my sharing the memory of the day I married his Dad. Wishful thinking. Unimpressed, an unsentimental chap he was bored so we closed it up again.
My younger son exorted me to open a vibrant, flowered box so rammed with hand-written letters from student days you can almost hear the chatter and energy of youth contained within. Excited I showed him VIP concert passes from the 90s to Ramones gigs and Michael Jackson concerts. He’s not heard of either! I blushed at the sight of old lover-letters tied in string – how gorgeous to note the abandon with which we dashed off feelings and posted them out. Why do I keep them, he asked? To know that I was once admired by lanky long-haired lads, and was myself less than 50 years old. They remind me I have lived a life before you came, I say. I feel ancient. We replace the box on the shelf.
There is one box I cannot share. It is too hard to open: a purple slim container was as painful to compile as the story it holds. This is the record of loss. Inside, cards, certificates, poems and prayers, a teddy bear and one photograph are memorial to the baby who died before we could know him truely. Baby James was the first of three souls lost to me and my man, and the only one whose body was delivered whole to be held and wept over before being blessed and committed to the ashes. Friends, sisters, mothers and aunts wrote to share and care at the awfulness of no-life. I was comforted to feel less alone. At the morgue they made me ink-prints of his feet on a tiny piece of card, so that he left us his mark. No need to lift the lid on this box. The contents are etched on my memory.
A song springs into my head. Oh My Darling Clementine – my Dad sang to me of the poor miner’s daughter who had herring boxes without topses for sandals. Thinking of him reminds me also how laughed at the ‘we were so poor’ sketch from Monty Python, claiming “there were 150 of us living in a shoe box in the middle of the road..”
There are 150 Nickys living in my various cartons… I like the hoarder in me who, melded with the organised obsessive, packs up my life into parcels. Like packaged gifts, they are there to be opened and enjoyed, mostly by me. In the future they can be disposed of whole, or browsed over by those who might be amused to find out what I cared to box.

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