The Heirloom Box

My great grandmother had passed away.  Mom and Grandma were going over to the house, and Sis and I got to go with them, because we were the oldest kids in the family.

I didn’t remember my great grandmother except for when she was in bed, dying, her white hair spread over the floral pillowcase. I must’ve been 9 or 10.

Mom and Grandma said Sis and I could choose one thing from the house to remember our great grandmother.  It was like a treasure hunt, going through each room alone, looking for the perfect thing.

Then I found it, a wooden box with a rich varnished patina, and big blue H painted on the top for Haussmann.  I picked it up in my arms. It was heavier than I expected, so I set it back down and opened the lid. Inside were several balls of white yarn and the beginnings of a scarf, plus two knitting needles.

I touched all the things inside the box, then closed the lid and cradled the box as I weaved through the circular floor plan, looking for my mom.

She was bent over a pile of linens when I found her.

“This is what I want,” I said, holding up the prized box.

My mother opened it up and saw the unfinished project.

“Are you going to finish that scarf?” she said in her tone of voice that meant I’d better say yes if I wanted the box.

I was ten. I didn’t know how to knit, and as far as I knew, neither did my mother.

“No,” I said.

She responded with a disapproving cluck, so it was decided. No box for me. I weaved my way back to the bedroom where I found it and put it back. After some more searching I found a tiny book about flowers that was nowhere as nice as the box. But at least I didn’t have to learn how to knit.

I hung around the kitchen while my mom sorted piles of stuff. Then Grandma and my older sister emerged, Sis carrying the box with the blue H on the top.

“She found a nice thing to remember Great Grandma by,” Grandma said.

Our mom looked inside the box that her eldest child held out to her. It was now empty.

I choked back tears when my mom said, “You remember Great Grandma more than Susie does.”

It had been decided. Sis was more worthy of the box than I was. And she didn’t have to finish the knitting.

I rode home in the backseat, hurt and confused. Why had I not been good enough for the beautiful box?  My dumb little flower book was no match for the loveliest thing in the house that now sat in my sister’s lap.

Years of therapy later, I now own that box, or at least have it in my possession as my sister lives in a care home two miles away.

My grandmother and mother knew something that I didn’t know at the time, that my sister’s life might not turn out to be as complete as mine would be. That is why she got the thing I wanted most that day.  But it still hurt, big time, to watch it go to her when I had asked for it first.

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