The Parent Trap: my life in cardboard

It is a simple brown box, the kind that anyone can pick up at a store. I don’t know what was stored in it before it came into my life, but in the past day it has taken on a whole new meaning.

The box was filled in increments over the years. A high school diploma was joined by a college mortarboard. That was covered by transcripts and short stories from my youth. Crude videos which I thought were works of art at the time are stored within its cardboard walls. Photos of nieces and nephews are in the same plastic sheathing with my Social Security card.

That box, in many ways, is the story of my life. Well, at least my young life. And I haven’t really thought about it for years. That’s what happens when you pack away those memories and put them in a closet under the stairs.

But the box has suddenly become a primary concern. This week, I needed proof that I was a citizen of the United States, and my Social Security card was required. So I looked for my cardboard box in the closet under the stairs. Then I looked in the large closet upstairs. I continued to look in the spare room, where boxes haven’t been opened since we moved into our new home, four years ago.

Like many homeowners, I have a lot of boxes in my house. Some are plastic and contain the next season’s clothing, and others have memories that are mostly not mine. That’s because I met and married a woman who has a hard time getting rid of anything. It’s not a criticism, but I do have two boxes of plastic horses, and a container which contains nothing but buttons.

My teenage kids have lots of boxes, and are just as defensive about their contents. My son has a round box with a metal clasp lid, filled with plastic building toys. He doesn’t use them much, but I dare not throw them away. My daughter refuses to give up her box of preschool books, so they sit on a shelf in her closet.

All of these boxes are easily found, yet my memories are somewhere yet to be discovered. Did they ever really happen? Maybe I didn’t act in the school musical, so there was no need to save the playbill. Maybe those old college transcripts were a figment of my imagination. No – if that were true, I would have remembered much better grades.

The box will be found, I’m sure of it. As the comedian David Brenner often said, “It will be in the last place that I look.” It will also show up when I have no use for it, when my past does not need to catch up with me. I’ll look through the box, reminisce and put it away – so it can once again get lost in a time of need.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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