“Is there anything that you want to take with you that is special to you?” She said.
“Yes. There is this heart shaped box. It's ceramic; painted red with a rose on top. It isn't very big. But, I made it with my whole heart.”
And, we found it. For years, it laid on my grandmother's dresser next to her jewelry box. When I was little, I would go into her bedroom and just look around. I always admired all her things. Little knick-knacks. Porcelain dolls. Jewelry. And, of course, I would always check to see what she was working on. Her current projects were always next to her bed along with whatever book she was reading at the time. The last thing I always checked was that the box was still there. Of course, it was.
When I went to the bedroom where she once slept and checked the spot where the heart shaped ceramic box always sat, it was gone. My heart fell. It was all I wanted. I don't need things to remember my grandmother. She died nearly 7 years ago. But, I've never felt that she really left. Maybe some people would call this being stuck in one of the stages of grief---denial. But, to me, I still feel her. I still hear her. If this is being “stuck” then I think I'll stay.
I remember, quite vividly, when I made the box. My mother and I were taking ceramics classes. This was the first item I painted. It took forever for me to pick it out. I knew I was looking for something specifically for my grandmother. I had three criteria.
There would have to be flowers. My grandmother could grow anything.
It had to be red. Red was her favorite color. She would say, “Everyone needs a little red in their life.” And, she always wore it whether it was an entire outfit or just a red broach. She always had a touch of red somewhere.
She would have to know I made it with love.
When I found the little heart shaped jewelry box with roses on top, I knew this would be perfect. My grandmother also loved jewelry. It was a passion we shared. As a matter of fact, jewelry is what my grandfather used as an enticement to get my grandmother to stop smoking. He bought a huge diamond cluster ring and I'm sure he said something like, “Please stop. I want you with me for a very long time but if I'm not enough to keep you here, then maybe this will help.”
She stopped smoking. I had always thought it was because of the ring. But, now, I realize the ring truly didn't have a thing to do with it.
When I started looking for the box, I wasn't surprised that it wasn't where it should be. My grandmother's things had been shuffled around from room to room since her death. The box had been there so long, I thought maybe it was wrapped in a drawer. It could even be in the attic. Worst case scenario? What if it had been broken in the shuffle?
I closed my eyes. And, I could see it. I could remember the excitement that welled up in my chest when I gave it to her. It was in a shiny red bag. There was no special occasion. I just wanted her to have it. It's red. It has flowers. It is shaped like a heart so she would know I loved her.
Memories of those stolen moments I spent peaking into her everyday life from the view of her bedroom came flooding back. I could remember her laugh. I could close my eyes and see her smile. I really, really just wanted to touch her. I would have given anything to just be able to hug her one more time.
I wandered across the hall and opened her closet door. When I did, I could smell her. It wasn't a perfume. It wasn't a specifically scented thing. It was her and the door's movement caused the air in the closet to swoosh around me like she had just entered the room. It was overwhelming. And, I started to cry...again.
I rested my head against the closet door and just stared at her belongings hanging there. Her bright red coat hung in the very center. I reached out to just touch it. I remembered my own red coat that I've worn for several years now. Each time I put it on, I'm reminded of her. Something led me to reach in the pocket. There, I found a neatly folded Kleenex.
I sighed heavily and took it from the pocket, “Thank you, Mammaw. How did you know I'd need it?”
It felt like a hug.
I started having this conversation with myself about how if we didn't find the box, it would be ok. I started reassuring myself that my memories of it always being there were valid. I told myself that what I remembered about making the box and giving it to my grandmother was true. I told myself that knowing all this was all that mattered.
A few minutes later, it was in my hands. I removed the lid and there was my name inscribed inside with the date. 1978. I was 6? I felt like I was much older. But, apparently not. When I look at a 6 year old, I wouldn't really consider that they had the strong feelings that I remember having while I was making it. But, I am a testament to myself that they do. I loved her bigger than life. I still do. And, even though the box is now safely with me, I really didn't need it as proof.