The Story of a Family Heirloom That Almost Wasn't
The man stared at the large box. Wrapped in brown craft paper and dotted with stamps showing its journey around the world, it rested on the kitchen table next to his unfinished lunch. He slowly ran his fingers through his scraggly gray beard. A gesture he invariably made when he was deep in thought, which often happens when you live alone in the middle of nowhere like him.
Why did this package seem so familiar? He’d never seen it before, but there was an annoying itch in the back of his brain. The same itch he would get back in the war right before “Charlie” popped up in the jungle. Something just didn’t sit right with him. Other than the usual car wash coupons, he seldom got mail, so who was sending him a package? Well, no point in thinking about it now. He had so much to do.
He devoted the rest of the day to avoiding the parcel. Puttering around the yard, cleaning the gutters and oiling the screen door hinge. A chore he convinced himself needed to be done immediately, although he had been ignoring it for weeks. Finally, after washing the supper dishes, he just couldn’t put it off anymore.
He sat down at the kitchen table with the package in front of him. A bone-handled pocketknife lay within reach. With a heavy sigh, the man carefully cut through the sisal twine wrapped around the box. With a quiet twing the string gave way. For a moment, the man considered the wrapping. Judging by the faded wrapping, this package certainly had a history, he thought. He carefully peeled back the brown paper. He performed the act slowly, as if he was defusing a bomb.
Under the paper was a cardboard box with marred edges. The man noticed a faded tag on the lid that caused him to catch his breath. On the slip of paper, in his grandfather’s handwriting, were the words:
The man was shaken. His grandfather passed away years ago. He recalled it vividly. Gramps was a heavy smoker and developed emphysema. After a brief stay in a rural upstate hospital, Gramps passed. He was buried two miles away in Rolling Hills Cemetery. The man had only been 11 years old at the time.
His heart was pounding in his chest as he removed the lid. Inside was a small, hand-carved trinket box made of maple, about the size of a cigar box. He gingerly placed the wooden object on the table. Carved on the hinged lid and all four sides were a variety of woodland animals - a deer, squirrels and a flock of birds. It was truly marvelous. Of course, he recognized the work immediately. Gramps was a master woodcarver and made several other boxes just like this. The man’s older brother, Jim, had received one for his thirteenth birthday, and he had resented it for years. That was one of a myriad of reasons he and his brother hadn’t spoken in years. He preferred solitude anyway, and by his thirtieth birthday he had lost touch with everyone.
Examining the box a little closer, the man noticed one bird had a lump of uncarved wood as a wing. Inside the box was a bright white envelope. He drew it out of the box and placed it on the chair next to him, taking notice that it was heavy for its size. Under the envelope, carved in the bottom panel of the box, was a date.
Tears blurred his vision as the realization struck him. That was the year Gramps died. His grandfather must have been working on this box when the illness he had been battling finally took him.
His mind went back to the envelope. With shaky hands he tore it open, spilling its contents onto the worn kitchen linoleum.
Sitting on the floor with tears running down his cheeks, the man flipped through an enormous bundle of photographs, mostly from his childhood. There was one of him dressed as Frankenstein for Halloween. His first day of kindergarten. He and Gramps on his first hunting trip, and so many more. Each one bringing back a rush of memories. Hidden under the photographs he discovered something else - the bronze star they presented him in ‘68. He had tossed it after an incident with an especially vulgar hippie. Someone must have recovered it from the trash.
A note card under the table caught his eye. Scanning the note, he didn’t recognize the handwriting.
We discovered these while cleaning out Gram and Gramp’s barn. I thought you might enjoy a trip down ‘memory lane.’ We really should catch up one day. This was accompanied by a phone number.
With trepidation, he dialed the number. A moment later there was a low click and a deep voice said,
“Hi Jim, it’s been a while.”
“Yeah. Forty years. I suppose you got the box. So, how ya doing, Squirt?”
The man openly wept.