Yesterday I was unpacking a box of my mother's things, sorting them into stacks to keep, donate, or throw away. Most of the objects were easily placed in an appropriate pile. Then I unearthed a fragile little paper gift she had received about 30 years ago. As I held it in my hands and examined it carefully, I saw things that were not there.
I saw a little boy sitting at a table working steadily on a project. He took two small paper plates, cut one in half, and put them together top sides facing. With a paper punch, he made holes all around the edge, then laced the plates together with pale green yarn. Finally, he painted some flowers in the middle of the half plate and put a hanger at the top of the finished pocket. It was a holder for small notes or other treasures.
That's not all I saw. Simultaneously, I saw the kitchen of my mother's house on Wahconah Street. Beneath the cabinet where she kept her spices and flavorings for baking, there is the plate pocket full of papers. I notice that the azure blue of the plate matches the color in the sprigs of flowers on the wallpaper. I see a dozen cookies cooling on a rack, and a child-size glass of milk waiting on the table. I can even hear the hiss of the old steam radiators so I know it is winter and my mother has left for a few minutes to walk over to the corner store to buy the New York News or the Boston Herald.
Not long ago I found another holder for receipts or perhaps for gum wrappers in the car. It was plastic, sticky and brittle, with the familiar logo of Horrigan Bros. Garage. It was stuffed completely full of old bills and letters, most of which had not been viewed in decades. This version of Pandora's Box revealed the inside of the cinder block garage at the corner of Wahconah and Mohawk streets.
I first spied the red Coke machine near the door, then the used oil drums topped by a carrier of glass bottles. On the next wall I saw the tool bench complete with my favorite tool, the vise. Along the back wall was the stick where one checked the headlight alignment of cars being inspected. The adjacent wall had a door that led to the parts room -- the place I loved best of all.
I loved the small, windowless room until the day I discovered a secret box I wasn't supposed to see. It was the pale blue cardboard suitcase that held a Tiny Tears doll and clothing which I had asked Santa to bring me for Christmas. No amount of Coke could console me when I realized what I knew, and how I had to hide my knowledge.
It's funny the garage was empty too, although I was sure my Pop was outside pumping gas. It was Saturday and I had just brought him his lunch, and he always had a great appetite.
I have a tray of seashells in the yard. Every time I walked on Red River Beach in South Harwich I picked up one shell and put it in my pocket. Most are scallop shells because I love the shape of them. A little bit of beach sand still clings to them. Every time I pick one up now I see dunes and rippling, salty water and hear the cry of herring gulls.
Seeing with the mind's eye is sometimes more compelling than looking out from the two eyes on the middle of one's face. Objects are so full of life they deserve a special scrutiny.
Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.