For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed by boxes. Perhaps it has something to do with the way we used to move every eighteen months the whole time I was growing up, even after dad got out of the Navy and we didn’t technically have to pack all our belongings in cardboard boxes and move from one place to another all the time. Or maybe my obsession started with the sweet-smelling cedar pencil box my aunt gave me for Christmas the year I learned to write, a hinged box with my name engraved on a brass plate; inside were a dozen pencils with my name printed in gold leaf. Or maybe it goes back to the year I turned fourteen, when we left a basement full of boxes in a house we had rented from the college where my mother worked. My dad fully intended to go back and move all those boxes of belongings before the college bulldozed the house, but somehow he never got around to it. For years I dreamed about those boxes and wondered what we had lost.
I like all kinds of boxes: plain cardboard boxes, wooden cigar boxes, round or octagonal hat boxes, music boxes, velvet-covered ring boxes, heart-shaped candy boxes, nested plastic boxes with pictures of unicorns on the lids, little tin boxes with pictures of fairies, wine boxes with collapsible dividers, acid-free bankers boxes, file boxes with or without handles, oval wooden Shaker boxes, jewelry boxes carved out of stone, Victorian powder boxes with pink powder puffs inside, wooden doll cases with a place to hang the clothes and little drawers for the shoes, plastic storage boxes, button boxes, sewing boxes, rubbermaid containers, heart-shaped wooden boxes, boxes decorated with inlays of native hardwoods.
Over the years I have squirreled away many things in boxes that I would then stash in a closet or behind the books on a shelf or in the back of a drawer or in the garage, to be discovered at some later date and marveled at: bits of colored ribbon, smooth round stones, seashells, paperdolls, old address books, my children’s baby teeth, a lock of hair, a bar of sandalwood soap. I had this idea that I could charge each item with so much meaning that even the smallest pebble could carry the weight of an entire week at the beach that I would never forget. In fact, sometimes I couldn’t remember why I had kept a particular object, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, either, because I knew that at one time, it had meant something to me. Sometimes I would search and search through boxes, trying to find things that weren’t there, wondering how I could have misplaced something important. Other times, I would open a box I had forgotten about and suddenly find myself weeping over its contents.
This year I intend to open each box in my house and see what I can discover about my life: where I’ve been and where I’m going. I intend to examine every item I have accumulated over the years and figure out which ones still serve a need and which ones I can let go.