Life’s Treasures Found and Kept
Guest Post by Beatrice Mercedes
I would not say I am a hoarder, in fact many of my friends will attest to how easy it is to help me move house, as it comes down to a few boxes and a couple of bits of furniture. That is not to say I am not sentimental, or, that like most people interested in the very notion of Treasure, I don’t have things I collect. But a discussion about my collections will be for another time.
Instead, I would like to describe one of the things I think most of us have, something we would describe as treasure, and that we commonly store in a special box, perhaps a cardboard box, a plastic container, or tin case. For myself, I use an old wooden travelling box, which is very worn, with the travel labels so faded and dark you have to squint just to see that any exist.
The box must have been green at some point in its life, as only in the deep grains of the wood can you see just the thin remnants of the original paint or stain. The lock has long been without the key, and the corners of the box’s thick bottom are so heavily worn that part their edge is missing, leaving the wood almost splintering. This isn’t rotting away, but simply a result of its life of being rocked and dropped during its travelling adventures.
The lid has three letters on it, not carved in, but embossed, meaning that the wood of the entire lid must have been carved away, allowing the three letters J E S to be left standing proud. Although, they are hardly proud now, as two of them are almost worn flat, possibly not just because of its travels, but perhaps more due to its life in retirement, in being used as a make-shift side table, or maybe from a time when it was laid under the weight of heavy, slowing pressing and wearing those letters down.
This box entered my life as being the wooden chest that sat next to my Grandfather’s chair. It used to hold the waste newspapers that he needed to light the large fire that rested just to the left of its constant place. In between its duties of holding paper, my Grandmother used to place a white lace-edged cloth on it, on which I only ever saw one thing; my Grandfathers singular glass of whiskey, which was his nightly reward after he had ensured the fire was raging before they relaxed for the evening.
That memory, now being a treasure in itself, the box now holds another value, in that I use it to store the little ‘keepsakes’ of my life, that collection of often valueless trinkets that we cannot throw away no matter how Spartan we may live our life by.
Amongst my treasures are things like my school tie, a little silver cup (literally only the size of a thumb tip), a badge that was made as a present when I was at school, the first cinema ticket stubs of the first time I took my children to the pictures, a copy of my family tree made by my father, along with a collection of papers of a storybook he never wrote. Obviously there are photos, all predating the modern ease of digital storage.
There are other things, all neatly packed into little aged tins, but the thing that has a strange value is a the only piece of printed literature that sits in there, a children’s storybook, the sort of book you offer a child when you are weening them off the picture books and encouraging them to venture into real reading (offering just an ink illustration every four to eight pages).
The reason why this is curious is for so many reasons. Originally I kept it as it was the only book I remember my father ever reading to me. I have very few memories of my childhood. That’s not because it was bad, I actually had a great childhood, I just don’t remember much of it. My Father was a loving Father, but quite Victorian in his manner, so didn’t interact with me much during my early years, so perhaps that is why I have held on to the book, as it seems to be the earliest memory I have of him, of him reading this book to me.
The strange thing is although this seems a moving and influential reason, it is only with age that I can acknowledge this. How did I know that I would come to value that memory so much? Why out of all the natural moments of growth and rebellion, through my teenagers which would have thought the idea stupid to keep such a childish book, for such a childish reason, did I still make the decision to keep it? Why through my ‘cool’ twenties did this book remain of obscure value, when I constantly changed my library and interests? I didn’t even boast about this book, in fact, this is the very first time I have every mentioned it to anyone, and yet it has been protected in my care for over 40 years.
I know I never kept it to read it to my own children. I can’t recall an intention for it to be a legacy act, and when I became a parent, I was savvy enough to realize that in this modern age children aren’t engaged with this sort of literature anymore, so although I engaged in reading to my children those simple bedtime books, when they were old enough to appreciate this style of book, I knew it would not hold their interest which is now so tailored to fashion, fads and media.
Yet, when they found the box, and subsequently the book, they asked about it and I told them. Strangely enough, they asked to be read it and I did, a chapter a night.
The first few chapters went well. I hadn’t heard the story since my father read it to me, and I had never read it myself, but as we began the memories came back harder and clearer. It was a good story of a walking talking dog packing his stuff in a handkerchief and setting off on an adventure, not knowing where he would go, but determined to go somewhere.
In the second chapter he met a Witch-Crocodile in the woods, who gave him some advice on which route to take. All delightfully explained and engaging to read.
Each subsequent chapter got worse and worse, giving little of the artistic style and flare that seemed so unique in those early pages. The story became either obscure or irrelevant, so that I had started to feel embarrassed to read it, imagining my children thinking ‘really? Your dad read you this and you KEPT it?’ It seemed so evident that both myself and my children were becoming well aware of how bad this book was.
In conversation, as my children and I discussed just how bad this book was, I asked if we should just give in and give up. Surprisingly they said to continue. They knew it wasn’t going to improve and I told them that they didn’t have to, that I wasn’t hurt or disappointed, but no, it was like a challenge they were willing to face, which stirred a strange mix of pride, admiration and slight concern. Anyway, we continued, finished and cheered when it was over and the book returned to the wooden box.
So why do I keep what has now proved to be such a rubbish heirloom, something that possibly my own children will pass on for their children to endure, if indeed the memory of its reading is as embedded as it was and is to mine
Even so, it is the second largest item in the box of memories, and there is no desire to throw it away, but there it is; it is rare, as I have never seen it anywhere else, it is valueless as it is awful, but it is a priceless treasure.
The Book? ‘Dominic’ – by William Steig (Sorry, just an awful book)