The Old Tattered Box: A Narrative

As I drove up the dirt road, I had many emotions swirling inside me. I spent many summers and Christmases at the “old farm”, as my grandfather referred to it so often. The farm had been in his family for five generations, a piece of Americana which is very rare today.

Coming up to the white, two-storied house with marine blue shutters, I got out and looked around. There was the horse barn that my horse Teddy had called home with his friends. The old barn seemed about the same to me.

Climbing those oak rafters with my cousins and pretending that we were on the Dawn Treader is a memory which will never fade. We pretended that the ram was Aslan, even though he never roared. He would stand in his enclosed fence watching us as he chewed his food with a puzzled expression.

I still can smell the fresh Dutch apple pies that my grandmother made from the variety of apples that grandpa picked from the apple orchard on the back forty. Of course, as we sat around the old pine picnic table under the sugar maples, the Australian shepherd’s twins, Hank and Thelma, begged for our intentional droppings of the whole wheat pie crust. I think we gave them more pie than we ate.

Grandpa would go digging in the old Kenmore freezer in the basement for a bucket of peppermint ice cream from the local creamery. There’s nothing like peppermint ice cream on hot Dutch apple pie on a July day with two dogs.

Walking around the house, there were the remains of the oak swings on the sugar maple. Half-way up were the remains of the Sherwood Tree House which would have made Robin Hood proud.

A hundred yards to the north there was the pond reflecting the azure sky above. I remember that we went with grandpa to the local fishery where we got some rainbow trout for that pond. Every summer we had those beautiful fish to tease and to feed and to watch.

Hank always was fascinated by the trout. Thelma could care less about those fish. She always kept a watchful eye on us kids, especially if someone pulled into the long driveway.

There’s the old John Deere. As grandpa worked on the fields of soy beans and corn, we would ride on the back and pretend we were on a green dragon.

So many happy memories. Well, I need to go into the house and check the attic. Mother wanted me to check some boxes that she did not have time to get to yesterday.

Opening the kitchen door with my key gave me a flood of memories. They always left the kitchen light over the sink on for me when I came in late from one of my adventures after I inherited the old pale blue Malibu from my elder brother, Clifford.

Always, there was a note on the table about some special treat in the Whirlpool fridge which was made just for me. Sighing, I glanced about the kitchen and remembered all of those meals around the oak dining room table at holiday times. That oak table could seat twelve with plenty of elbow room. And of course, it was handmade by my grandfather. He was an excellent carpenter.

Breaking my reverie, I made my way upstairs and opened the attic door. Switching on the lights, I walked to a set of old boxes neatly placed on the oval cherry table. Oh, my, we used to play so many games around that table—Clue, Huggermugger, Mastermind, Monopoly, Parcheesi, Quarto, and Pit. Pit— I am sure the dogs thought we were nuts with seven kids around this table yelling and screaming.

If I remember right either Hank or Thelma took the orange Pit bell and hid the thing. It gave us kids a chance to hunt for buried treasure.

Well, I have a whole morning of work to do it seems with these boxes. I switched on the 1938 blue Philco radio and got an earful of some preacher yelling about hellfire. Turning the dial, I picked up a station playing 60s’ music. Guess this will have to do.

The boxes were my grandmother’s. They were packed after her death five years ago by my mother and aunts. Beautiful cloth and yarns. I remember helping my grandma making doll clothes and several tablecloths. I still have the patchwork quilt she and I made when I was ten. I really miss her.

Wouldn’t you know it? On the radio My Girl by The Temptations began playing. Grandmother said grandfather would sing this song to her every Saturday.

After three hours I had collected what I wanted and was about to exit the attic when my eyes fell upon an old box tattered and taped by the door. Bending down I was surprised to see my name written on it in blue magic marker. It was my grandfather’s handwriting.

Sitting down, I attempted to tear it open, but he had taped it to survive a cyclone. Finally, I had it opened. I could not believe my eyes. It was my grandfather’s backgammon set that his Commanding Officer had given him after his service in the War. He and grandmother always played a game each day after supper with the radio playing. They weren’t big television watchers.

The exceptions were Bonanza, Mister Ed, I Dream of Jeannie, Perry Mason, Dean Martin, Star Trek and Ed Sullivan. My grandmother thought Scotty of Star Trek was a real handsome Scotsman. She told us girls that you could never go wrong in a marrying a Scotsman. Of course, grandfather’s ancestors had come from Scotland in the 1700s to America.

One Saturday we caught grandmother in her sewing room watching American Bandstand. She said that she liked watching the young people dance. It brought back memories of her and grandfather in their younger days.

Well, back to the box. Opening it carefully, there was a handwritten note.

“My dearest Catlin, I hope this old game will bring you and your future husband as much joy as it did for your grandmother and me. I could not find a good box for this, but I found the one that you gave me on Christmas when you were fourteen. I think Hank opened it for me if I remember correctly. Anyway, my dear granddaughter, I hope your life is rich beyond measure and your happiness is like that piggy bank full of quarters which took us three hours to open.

Please take care! And always remember us.

With all my love,


Oh, my, thank you grandpa. I remember asking him about this backgammon set after grandma died. He just shrugged and said it was in a good place.

With some tears I placed the old case under my arm, switched off the lights and closed the door. Going downstairs I stood in the living room looking out the bay window toward the fading red barn.

I remember that window surrounded by plants, especially jade plants and ivy. Grandfather had built grandmother a small greenhouse outside the kitchen door. He always enjoyed fresh tomatoes during the winter.

During our Christmas visits grandmother always made fresh green tomato pudding. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It was actually delicious with hot apple cider, spiced with nutmeg and cloves.

They say your loved ones who have passed from this life are always with you if you remember them. Perhaps, if you listen carefully to the winds you can still hear their voices in whispers.

At this place I can hear those faint whispers of immortality which T. S. Elliot spoke of so many years ago. Grandfather and grandmother will always be with me.

I hope when I have children to share those memories, those voices with them. Perhaps, the most tragic reality of life is to be forgotten after you are gone.

This place has so many good memories. I wish I could capture them like we did the monarch butterflies on those summer days so long ago.

Those old blue Mason jars made the capture even more special for us kids. Of course those jars once held applesauce, peaches, pears, and rich apple butter prepared by hands of love which we consumed so readily.

Grandfather use to say love is a rainbow with gold tossed into the bow. It was most precious.

After grandmother died, he did not say much. He worked in his wood shop until the end.

This is where my father found him one Saturday afternoon. He had gradually passed on with the auger in his hand. He had just finished a Ponderosa pine chest for my niece, Jessica, who loved the sweet scent.

I always loved going into that wood shop with all the smells of the various woods, especially cherry and elm. I still have the cherry jewelry box he made for me on my thirteenth birthday. He said every 13-year old girl needed a special box for her trinkets and special treasures.

It seems so long ago now. Here I am just graduated from college contemplating a job or graduate school or something else.

If life could be as simple as it was in childhood. Carefree and fun.

So many memories….so many memories.

G. D. Williams © 2015

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