Several times through the years Mom has asked me to venture into the attic or some other dark place to retrieve what she calls her “Keep Forever Box” — an unassuming carton containing dreams and precious memories acquired throughout her lifetime. From time to time she even lets me take a peek. By golly, there’s a tiny handprint of mine, set in plaster of Paris with “1952” carefully etched into the stark white surface. I recall that day when my Yokohama, Japan kindergarten teacher splayed my fingers apart and pressed my hand evenly into the shallow, plaster-filled dish. Like most kids, I was more interested in making a mess than I was storing the significance of the moment away in my bubbling and growing gray matter. Over there in a different corner of Mom’s Keep Forever Box is a frayed, crayon-construction paper drawing of a stick-Mom standing next to a stick-tree underneath a stick-sun that says “I love you, Mom” in squiggly and sometimes backwards handwriting.
Like most folks, I didn’t realize I had my own Keep Forever Box until the other day when I was cleaning out a section of basement and came across a tattered cardboard box filled with filing cabinet-drawer contents accumulated through decades of moves and casual house cleaning efforts. By golly, there’s a blue folder filled with poetry written way back in my high school days when that same bubbling and still-growing gray matter was filled with notions of girls and ideologies and change rather than common sense. And — suddenly, right there in my hand — I discover a torn scrap of paper on which is written in pencil so faintly visible I almost toss it away, a note that says: “See ya, Timbo. Take care. Rich.”
Instantaneously I am whisked back to the day my friend, Rich left for Viet Nam without fanfare. I was not home when Rich stopped by, but I can plainly see him tearing off a piece of scrap paper from a pocket notebook he always carried with him, scribbling the note in his half-printing, childish sort of way, slipping it under my door before walking away from youthful dreams and into a future that was no more certain then than it is now.
Funny how gray matter works.
Thanks for making it back safely, Rich.