Sunday, October 05, 2014

A Life in Small Boxes

From the time I was seventeen until I was in my late thirties, I never lived anyplace longer than 18 months. After that, I started staying longer. But I always knew I'd be pulling up stakes again sooner or later. Sometimes my moves were simply across town. But often I was relocating across continents and oceans. And because I'm a sentimentalist (which is a nice way of saying I'm inordinately attached to my Stuff), I was always careful to keep the small boxes things came in so I could safely pack them for my next move or stash them in my parents' basement until I was in a position to retrieve them.
And so, long after I'd inadvertently lost contact with my high school friend Sue, I kept the box for the silver chamberstick she gave me as a graduation present. I kept the random box that nicely fit the two old blue-plate specials my grandmother gave me when I was eighteen (along with a lecture on the evils of gambling, for the plates were all that remained of a restaurant my grandfather lost at the turn of a card in 1928). I kept the box for the Wedgwood Peter Rabbit cereal bowl I bought my daughter in England her first Christmas; the box for the alabaster cat my mother sent for my thirty-fifth birthday when I was in Jordan.... You get the idea.
When I moved to New Orleans, I fully expected to relocate again in a couple of years. I put all those little boxes inside big dish packs and stuck them up in my attic. And this past weekend, as we were getting the attic ready for the A/C overhaul we're having done, I found them.

As I went through each and every little box to be certain they were all empty, I realized that here, in small boxes, was the story of my life: flimsy, half-crushed boxes for treasures from China and Egypt and Spain nestled next to little Brio train boxes and boxes for porcelain dollhouse sets with torn bits of Christmas paper still adhering to them. Then, a bit misty eyed, I hauled all those boxes out to the curb for the trash.
Yes, I will move at least one more time, probably in the next 3-5 years when Steve retires. But I don't need all those small boxes anymore. And while I know it says volumes about my stage in life, I'm not sure I'm ready to admit yet what that is.

31 comments:

paz said...

What a lovely post! It made me smile. I am of course the person who has spent her life wishing she had kept those "perfect for..." boxes, as well as many things that came inside them. But every time I moved, half way through packing or unpacking I inevitable lost my patience and tossed half of my belongings out. And during the next move, I would loose some more, because I could not find a way to store them, and so on. Most of the memory objects I have now were kept by other people for me, and I have received or inherited them recently. These I do intend to keep (cross my heart).

Lynne said...

As Paz, said - a lovely post. Not only did I smile, I also shed a tear because I'm like you - giving up the sentimental bits is just too hard. And I haven't moved nearly as often as you have. I can't part with "things" easily nor books, for the matter. I get attached to gifts, something that came from a trip. etc. You expressed it beautifully. And with luck, next time you move, it will only be across town. Thanks for a wonderful piece of yourself, Candy.

Anonymous said...

C-i have to admit i too had a tear in my eye. mostly because of envy. i wish i had lived in all the places you did. it sounds so fascinating. and an amazing life. and i too keep boxes like that. but not because of moving. i have lived in the same apt since 1991. yikes. but i do that so things are just kept safe. i could never display all my belongings in 650 sq feet. when i make my move south in the next few years, i know many things will not come with me but im hoping that everything that does will finally get out of its box.
best, ali

cs harris said...

Paz, I often wish I was the kind of person who could just move on, uncluttered and fancy-free!

Lynne, one of my projects for this coming year is to go through all my bookcases and try to thin them out. We'll see how well I do.

Ali, that's funny; I've never met anyone else who did that! Things really are much safer in their original boxes.

Susan J. said...

All the 'stuff' we accumulate over the years, it's scary. When we moved from our old house, where we had lived for nearly thirty years, it was terrible! As for our books, it took my husband nearly a week to pack them all, it ran into about twenty boxes, as they had to be kept fairly small so as not to be too heavy. As we moved into a small bungalow, we had to get rid of lots. We have books everywhere here, all lined on walls in the hallways to make room. It must be nice for you to look at your objects and remember all the interesting places you've been.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm officially not the freak my husband thinks I am. I have original boxes to many, many of the things I've received or collected over the years. This includes the boxes for china place settings, plates I have hanging on the wall, various crystal chachkies, etc. I have them all in about 4 or 5 giant moving dish packs (with each move there are move empty box boxes) that have moved with us over my last 25 years or so (at least 4 times). I also store many of my serving pieces, bowls, etc. in their original boxes in my cupboards. I'm so happy to hear there are others like me out there. Sabena

cs harris said...

Susan, I've been in this house now longer than I've ever lived anywhere (as long as you ignore the year after Katrina), and the thought of all the stuff I've accumulated horrifies me.

Sabena, that makes three of us! I envy you your boxes. Since we lost part of our roof in Katrina, even if I'd wanted to keep my boxes of boxes, most were in rather sad shape.

Susan J. said...

I wonder if you have any momentos of your family in your collection, such as the German ancestors that are mentioned in the back of 'Midnight Confessions'? My Dad recently gave me the Victorian chair that belonged to my great grandfather, which was given to him to pay a bad debt. (He was a leather manufacturer in the late Victorian period). I treasure it, thinking of all the generations of my family who have sat in it. My Dad also has my great, great grandfather's cricket bat, with his name inscribed on it. I think it's period about the 1860's.

Susan J. said...

Oh dear, rogue apostrophe! I mean 'its period is about the 1860's'.

cs harris said...

Susan, that's neat to have those things from your family. I don't have anything that my maternal great-grandparents brought from Germany; all had lots of children, so if there was anything, someone else has it. The only thing I have that supposedly came over with any of my ancestors is a lovely old necklace that is said to have come with my father's great-grandparents from Belgium. But I honestly don't know if it really did. I treasure the few things I have from my grandparents, but it's not much.

Susan J. said...

The necklace sounds lovely, an antiques expert might be able to tell if it originated from Europe. What is it made of and what style is it?

cs harris said...
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cs harris said...

Susan, I tried to insert a picture in my comment but couldn't figure out how to do it. Anyone know?

Susan J. said...

My husband said does it have any hallmarks? You might be able to tell where it was made from those. Still, maybe it's best to keep with the family legend. My grandmother always said Sir Joseph Paxton (designer of The Crystal Palace) was her great uncle but it turns out her side of the Paxton family were only distantly related, which was a bit of disappointing!

cs harris said...

Susan, no hallmark, but I Googled "antique necklace" and found one that looks very similar:

http://www.langantiques.com/products/item/90-1-4527

Instead of coral, mine has blue-green stones, but it does have the dangling freshwater pearls, the draping swags, and a scrolled gold center very much like this one. This one is from around 1900, so I assume mine is from the same era--too late to have come over with my ancestors from Belgium. Still, it is very pretty, and I do cherish it as the only thing I have from my grandfather's family.

Susan J. said...

I looked up the Art Nouveau necklace quoted, it looks beautiful. Your necklace sounds even nicer with blue-green stones. Could they be turquoise? My husband looked in one of his 'Miller's Antiques' books and there seem to be several similar ones from the late Victorian-Edwardian periods. I do envy you, I adore the Art Nouveau style.

Coach Factory said...
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Coach Factory said...
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cs harris said...

Susan, I think the stones probably are turquoise. I spent way more time than I should have looking at all that lovely antique jewelry!

AudreyGreenwood said...

Memories are tough for us to part with as they somewhat act as a reminder of our past which we had personally gone through. I have my own set of personal collection in more than just little boxes that I have a hard time parting with. I know for sure one day someday that I need to bid farewell to the bygones but for now, I will just let them linger on for a little while more.

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