The Mother Box

The Mother Box

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

The Mother Box

Late one December evening, bathed in the soft light of the Christmas tree, I lay on the couch with my eyes closed, letting my memories swirl around in pools of thought. Returning to the present, I opened my eyes and immediately my gaze fell upon a beautiful miniature Christmas city that lined my fire place mantel. Well, it was really only half a city, as my dad had divided it between my sister and me twenty-five years earlier after our mother had passed away.

Little twinkle lights glowed from behind red cellophane windows in the tiny cardboard houses that had lined the living-room bookshelves of my childhood.

With no warning, the words tumbled out like a spilled glass of aged wine—words that had been hidden in my heart a long time, waiting to surface, “Mom, I miss you so much.”

An ocean of tears ebbed and flowed for nearly an hour, and then the idea emerged. If I felt this way then surely my brother and sister did, too. Twenty-five years, five senses, one box—that’s what I would do—I would capture the essence of my mother and place her in a box—a Mother Box—one for each of her children.

I began to think of our mother in terms of what scent encompassed her, what look best described her, what sound echoed “Mother,” and so on.

Including my ten-year-old daughter, Shiloah, in my quest, we searched to put together pieces of a grandmother she’d never met.

First came the box all the memories would be housed in. Such a vast display we found. Flowered ones of every type ever found in a garden, ones with stars on them, moons, old-fashioned Victorian images, hearts and ones with Christmas themes, and then we saw them—angels! Yes, for a mother no longer of this Earth, it was perfect. But, there were only two. One sister, one brother—I’d make one for myself another time.

Oddly enough, the entire day was like that. We’d find two of just what we needed, no more, no less. With mounting excitement we took our treasures home and wrapped them with great love.

A river of memories wound its way through a thickly wooded forest of words, painting a picture of a thousand yesterdays, growing straight and tall like new seedlings among the old growth. Sealed with a simple envelope, they awaited their intended.

Just the right time presented itself to give my brother his box. As his eyes fell upon its contents, this man of thirty-seven was reduced to tears. My father was standing there, and I’ll never forget the faraway look on his face. The years were melting away with each item my brother lifted from the Mother Box.

A package of grits representing a woman who grew up in the South and served it to her children for breakfast in Oregon—her favorite Johnny Mathis music—a shiny silver Christmas bow that felt like the party dresses she wore—a single silk red rose representing dozens my father had given her. I included the famous story of how once when they were courting he brought long-stemmed roses that were as long as he was tall! She adored red roses. Finally, a bottle of her favorite perfume, Emeraude. I could hardly believe they still made it, but there it was, that familiar green. The shape of the bottle had changed over the years, but when I sprayed the misty fragrance into the air, it was unmistakably the scent of our mother.

This journey of the heart, traveled with my daughter, brought us together in spirit. We were both bound with the cords of love from the life of a woman long gone, yet still sewn tightly in the memory quilt of our minds. We saw the continuing thread of life reflected in each other’s eyes.

Then my daughter handed me a box. Inside was the essence of my mother—the fragrance of another generation reached out to touch her legacy. I opened the perfume bottle and sprayed, and she surrounded us.

Linda Webb Gustafson

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