A box for everything and everything in its box
About a year and a half ago my niece, Mary (Salty But Sweet) and I undertook a bit of a writing challenge: we were going to take turns suggesting a topic, then each of us was to write an essay on the subject for the other to critique. We did manage to do a few of them, but as time went on we both found ourselves doing enough writing to keep us honest. (Do check out her blog, linked above, if you haven’t already. It’s a pip!) Anyway, our first topic was boxes. Here’s part of what I wrote:
Where should one begin a discourse about boxes? My first thought was to write something along the lines of Boxes Throughout History, but I ran into some problems with that: namely, my lack of knowledge of history. I thought perhaps if I started with Boxes in the Bible, I could go from there. My first Biblical Box was, well, the Ark. Not all that convincing. The next thing I could think of was the Three Wise Men, bearing gifts. The gifts must have been in boxes. At least the gold. Maybe not the frankincense. But what about the myrrh? Does it fit in a box? What is myrrh, anyway? Does anyone know? So much for my Boxes in the Bible theme. For that matter, I’m pretty well sunk for using Boxes Throughout History. Scratch History. Pretty much anything prior to 1950 is out of range. (Am I dating myself here?)
What I remember about boxes from my childhood is that my Dad loved cigar boxes. He didn’t smoke cigars; he just loved cigar boxes. He was not the sort of person to be a Collector. He just liked to keep cigar boxes. And put things in them. I don’t know if he thought of them as a way to store things, sort things, file things, preserve things, hide things, or just organize stuff, but he did like to have them to put things in. He admired them, and he must have taken good care of them because he had some of them for a long time. The ratty ones were used to store things that got rusty: nails and screws and nuts and bolts and washers. I really wish I knew what else he kept in his cigar boxes. Especially the nice ones.
I had cigar boxes too. I think most kids had them to keep their school supplies in. They were the perfect size to store your scissors, paste, pencils, crayons, ruler (that could be a bit too long and would stick out at the end so the lid wouldn’t close properly), and a little packet of Kleenex. Part of getting ready for the new school year was to get a new cigar box. I always got mine at Al Bernstein’s Drug Store across the bridge and down the road from where I lived. I was a bit of a favorite with Al, so he always saved a really good one for me. I don’t recall what became of the old ones at the end of the school year. Maybe Dad used them to store rusty nails.
The other boxes I remember from my grade school days were the Valentine Boxes. Every year for Valentines Day each pupil would decorate a box to be used as a sort of mail box for the valentines the other kids in the class would send us. Most people used shoe boxes for that, and decorated them with crepe paper and paper doilies. Mine was always among The Most Beautiful. But that never really helped to attract The Most Valentines Received. I never got the maximum number, as some of the other kids with whom I was in competition did.
Another kind of box I remember from my childhood was the Box Supper. This involved ladies decorating boxes and filling them with things like fried chicken and chocolate cake. The aim of this was to have the most enticing box at the Supper because these boxes were auctioned off to the gentlemen at the Supper. The ladies, of course, wanted her favorite gentleman to buy her box because that meant they would have supper together. The ladies were supposed to keep the identity of their boxes a secret, but I’m sure there were some shady deals done so that the right man bought the right box. The prettiest girls and the best cooks were the most likely to fetch the best price for their boxes, but it was still important to decorate them as attractively as possible. I think it was a fairly important Lesson in Life: The prettiest box doesn’t always mean the best supper, or the prettiest girl to have supper with.
No doubt these childhood experiences of using cigar boxes, shoe boxes, and any other boxes for all sorts of things is at least partly responsible for my inability to throw any box away. To this day I save boxes of all sizes and shapes. You never know when they’ll come in handy. (And boxes have such a tidy way of nesting inside one another for storage. For storing the boxes, that is.) It often puzzles me that, despite my very impressive collection of boxes, saved for the purpose, I can rarely find a box that is suitable for the item that I need a box for.
I think that the good ole cardboard box is on the ascendancy, just quietly. After decades of infatuation with plastic (Don‘t even get me started on Tupperware!), people once more are looking at the humble box as a Thing of Value. For a start, it can be re-cycled as well as re-used. It’s biodegradable, lightweight, and versatile. (Wouldn’t it be great if we all fit that description? How much more environmentally and socially fit we would be.) We even trust it to hold our much-loved vin ordinaire — our quaffing wine. In Australia (where the cardboard cask has been around for well over 30 years) the trusty cask sits along side the tinny at a backyard barbeque. And that, my friends, is serious status.
I didn’t mean to take up the subject of Tupperware, but how can one discuss Boxes Through the Ages (even just my age) without mentioning the Scourge of the Twentieth Century, in the form of the dreaded Box that Burps. Mr. Tupper, History will revile you!
I have a recurring nightmare: I am walking down an endless corridor lined with doors. Cupboard doors, mostly. As I walk I have to open each and every door. Behind every one is an uncontrolled jumble of Tupperware that falls out as the door is opened. This nightmare has been played out in kitchens across the land for decades. Children have been marked for life. I say it is time these pesky items were banned. I mean, honestly; who really needs a Party Susan? MM