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Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Secrets of "The Box" - Sympathy Saturday

am proud to feature this poignant article  from a childhood friend and guest writer, Jennifer.  Do read on:  

I knew of' The Box'  from an early age  it was  a large, square, brown cardboard box kept in the  double cupboard at the top of Mum’s wardrobe.  I asked my parents many times what  'The Box" 'contained,  but I was always 'fobbed off 'with,

A lair for meddlers’ or,
Nothing for nosey parkers ’or,
'Be like Mr.Asquith ,............, wait and see'

I didn't really understand any of these answers,  so  eventually, I stopped asking and accepted The Box's mystery as part of the adult world  to which I was not yet privy .

In my early teens,  I overheard  a conversation between Grandma and  Dad.  They were discussing Mum who had been consumed with,what I recognised as the pall of sadness which, on regular occasions  shrouded her. 

Dad,in a pained hushed voice, said to Grandma,  ‘Nellie’s  been  very down this week’
To which Grandma replied,  ‘ It could be 'The Change,  Fred or maybe she's been in that box ?"  ‘Yes she could have.  I haven’t the heart to ask, I sometimes wish I’d got rid of it straight after', was Dad's semi-whispered response.  Suddenly, aware of my presence, they changed the subject.   I knew instantly that 'The Box" was responsible for this uneasy  subject switch.

My brother, eleven years my senior,   seemed in on the conspiracy and, like the rest of the family, was resolute in fending off all my enquiries.  He told me the box contained the deeds for the house, a copy of Grandad’s will and Dad’s  old Home Guard uniform. I didn’t believe him for a moment.   I think  he knew that.

My Father died in 1992.  Mum and I tearfully sorted through his effects, but 'The Box' remained undisturbed, in its reverential place.

Fifteen years later my brother died unexpectedly, the second child to predecease my Mother; my sister Audrey having passed on at the age of 15 in 1947.

For over 60 years the box remained intact and untouched.  There were opportunities to investigate,  but somehow I couldn’t abuse Mum’s privacy.   Besides for fifty of those years, it was string tied,  sealing waxed and tape sealed - a sarcophagus of secrets.

In July 2012 Mum died at the advanced age of 101 years.  As sole executrix,  it became my responsibility to gain probate which involved listing and evaluating Mum's house and contents - a  harrowing procedure.  Mum had been a young woman when she first set foot over the threshold in 1939 and  the house held so many memories for me, happy .....and sad.  I set aside a day when I was mentally ready to tackle the job, preferring to be alone.

I felt invasive and uncomfortable as I lifted 'The Box" down from the wardrobe cupboard carefully placing it on the bed.  Initially I just stared at it, feeling a tight, hard knot of emotion in my chest before plucking up the courage to tear the tape away and cut the well secured string .

A large brown envelope was revealed first 'Ah! I thought,' the will copy and deeds just as brother Fred said.  'However, I was mistaken for, written in the unmistakable hand of my Mum, on a stiff piece of white paper were the words.  

'I didn’t know that my heart could beat outside my body until I bore a child.'
I could see tissue paper packages and Iifted them out one by one,  nervously unwrapping  each and placing the contents beside the box, every item had an accompanying label.

Audrey's Velvet Ribbon worn at the school Christmas party Dec.1946,

Audrey's Brush - The brush still held Audrey's tawny hairs , which, amazingly, even after 66 years, still glinted in the sunlight filtering through the bedroom window.

Audrey's School Blazer, Hat and Tie,  together with the letter advising my parents that she had won a scholarship to the Grammar School.

Audrey's French Vocabulary BookOn the back page "Oh Come All Ye Faithful",  written in her neat hand and translated into French, German and Latin.

School Reports from  Devonshire Road Primary School and The Collegiate Grammar School.   'Audrey top of her class - Fred and I very proud'.

A Folder of Drawings, Paintings and Prints - School Art Work
Party Shoes size 2  - small for a 15 year old I thought.

 Four Blue and Purple Crepe Paper Bows tied with string - Christmas decorations 1944.

A Cream Cotton Sewing Apron,  featuring a chain stitch figure of Little Bo Peep.

A Thank You Letter and Receipt for 2/6d -  in lieu of the   proceeds from a street stall Audrey had organised for the Red Cross.

Two books,'"Mrs.Overtheways Remembrances'"- Audrey's school prize for gaining top place in French and "Mary Jones" and her Bible" - Audrey's Sunday School Prize'. 

A Christmas Card from Genevieve,  Audrey's French penfriend.

A Stuffed Felt Donkey,  made from fabric scraps by Audrey,  for Jennifer 1946. 

Lastly....... A Small Gilt Wire Brooch,  shaped into the word 'Mother' - Audrey's  Mother's Day Gift, March 1946.

Having satisfied my long held curiosity.  I now had the opportunity to dispose of this intimate  collection of worthless yet  priceless  items.  

For some reason, I couldn't. I  carefully repacked every item and explanatory card   into the brown cardboard box, reknotted and tied  the string, brought it back to my home and stowed it away .............. in the double cupboards at the top of the wardrobe.    

I'm not completely sure why  letting go of 'The Box ' is so difficult,  
but that's the way it is  ...............

Jennifer Siswick 
August 2014


"Sympathy Saturday " is just one of many daily prompts from www.geneabloggers.com encouraging writers to record their family history and family memories. 


  1. What a beautiful post. My husband's mother & father lost an 18 month-old daughter (she would have been my husband's older sister) when someone left a gate open & she wandered into the street & was hit by a car. We have possession of her baby book in which her poet-mother wrote some lovely things. There are also photographs of her. She was a darling little girl & I hope someone in the family will always keep the book to remember that once upon a time she lived.

  2. I have included your blog in Interesting Blogs, Friday Fossicking as below…


    Thank you, Chris

  3. With many thanks, Chris, for featuring my post - much appreciated.

  4. Thanks, Sue, for including this post. It's quite lovely.

  5. Such an evocative, heart-wrenching story. It would be very hard to dispose if such carefully treasured items. There's something poignant about the mother living to 101 yet her daughter had died so young.


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