I knew of 'The Box' from an early age. It was a large square, brown cardboard box kept in the double cupboards at the top of Mum's wardrobe. I asked my parents many times what 'The Box' contained but I was always 'fobbed off' with :- 'A lair for meddlers' or, 'Nothing for Nosey Parkers' or, 'Be like Mr .Asquith, wait and see!' I didn't really understand any of these evasive answers so, eventually, I stopped asking, accepting 'The Box's' mystery as part of the adult world to which I was not yet privy.
In my early 'teens' I overheard a conversation between Grandma and Dad, they were discussing Mum who had been recently consumed with the pall of sadness which, on regular occasions shrouded her. Dad, in an unfamiliar, pained, hushed voice said to Grandma, 'Nellie's very down this week' to which Grandma replied, 'It could be The Change Fred or maybe she's been in that box'? 'Yes, she could have, I haven't the heart to ask. I sometimes wish I'd got rid of it straight after' Dad spoke in a semi whisper. Suddenly, aware of my presence, they changed the subject and began discussing Frank Sayle's new car. I knew instantly that 'The Box' was responsible for this uneasy subject switch.
My brother Fred, eleven years my senior, seemed 'in on the conspiracy' and, like the rest of the family, was resolute in fending off all my enquiries. Fred told me 'The Box contained the deeds for the house, a copy of Granddad's will and Dad's old Home Guard uniform. I didn't believe him for a moment, I think he was aware of that! My Father died in 1992. Mum and I tearfully sorted through his effects but 'The Box' remained resolute, undisturbed in its reverential place. Fifteen years later my brother died an untimely death, the second of my Mother's children to pre-decease her. My sister Audrey had passed on at the age of 15 in 1947. For over sixty years 'The Box' remained intact and untouched. There were opportunities for me to investigate but somehow I couldn't abuse Mum's trust. String tied, sealing waxed and sticky taped it was a sarcophagus of secrets.
In July, 2011, Mum died at the advanced age of 101years. As sole executrix and in order to administer the will to the beneficiaries, it was my responsibility to gain probate. This involved itemising and evaluating Mum's house and contents, a harrowing procedure. Mum was a young woman when she joyfully first set foot over the threshold in 1939. The house held so many memories for me, happy…….and sad.
I set aside a day when I was mentally and emotionally ready to 'tackle the job'. I preferred to be alone. I felt invasive and uncomfortable as I lifted 'The Box' down from the wardrobe cupboard. After carefully placing it on the bed I initially just stared at it. A tight, hard knot of emotion gripped my chest before I plucked up the courage to tear the tape away and cut the well secured string. A large brown envelope was revealed first, 'Ah' I thought, 'The deeds and will, just as Fred said'. I was mistaken, however, for, written on a piece of stiff, white paper in the unmistakable hand of my Mother were the words:-
I could see several tissue paper packages in 'The Box' and lifted them out one by one, nervously unwrapping each and placing the contents beside 'The Box'. Every sacred item had a label.
The brush still held fine strands of Audrey's tawny hair, which, amazingly, even after 66 years, glinted in the sunlight filtering through the bedroom window.
With these, the letter advising my parents that Audrey had won a scholarship to Blackpool Collegiate Grammar School for Girls.
On the last page "Oh come all ye faithful" translated, in a neat hand, into French, German and Latin. Four blue and purple crepe paper bows tied with fine string.
A cream cotton sewing apron featuring a chain stitch figure of Little Bo Peep. School reports from Devonshire Road Girls Primary School and The Collegiate Grammar School.
"Small for a 15 year old" I mused
A letter of thanks and including a receipt for 2s 6d.
Two books: Mrs Overtheways Remembrances.
…and: Mary Jones and her Bible
A stuffed donkey made from fabric scraps.
A folder of drawings, paintings and prints.
Lastly, a small, gilt wire brooch shaped into 'MOTHER'
Having satisfied my long held curiosity I now had the opportunity to dispose of this intimate collection of priceless but worthless items.........I couldn't. I carefully repacked every item and explanatory card into the brown cardboard box, reknotted and tied the string, brought it back to my home and stowed it away in.......the double cupboards at the top of my wardrobe. I'm not sure why letting go of 'The Box' is so difficult but that's the way it is.
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