Treasures You Never Knew You Had
My oldest daughter is in the middle of a college project, one that needs old pictures of her as a kid. I’m not against that, I tend to be a bit nostalgic and I like old things. I like history and the history of our family and where they came from and all that is part of who they are.
Most of my pictures are stored in this series of stacked chests that my wife used to use for decoration. My sons had taken to calling them “treasure chests” and I had no idea how correct that might actually be. I simply assumed that this would be another in a series of walks down memory lane.
We certainly found pictures of my daughter as a little girl. Since I was a news photographer at the time it’s not hard to understand why there would be a lot of them. I had a camera around me all the time, both video and still. It wasn’t actually the pictures that got me, it was what was there with them.
In the box was an application, ID card and several pictures from the Miss Teen of California pageant, 1986. On that card, of course, along with a picture, was the name Andrea Andrews, my wife. Now…I’m sure she may have told me years ago that she’d been in the competition but I certainly didn’t remember it.
“Oh, yeah,” my daughter casually informed me. “She didn’t win, of course,” was her response.
“She should have. She was pretty enough,” was my response.
Under that was a tiny journal, one I’d never opened because I assumed it was simply empty. My wife was a good writer, she liked to write in fact. She didn’t do it like writing in a diary, though, or as I’m doing here . . . blogging my life’s minor events. Yet when I opened it inside was an itinerary and a day-by-day telling of a post-high-school-graduation trip she made to Europe. I knew about the trip, heard stories, even saw pictures. But to see her words written out was pretty amazing. More than that it was surprising.
I have to be honest, though, they all made me smile. It was a pleasant thing to see her words, find out new things. We’d been married 18 years, that’s no small number. She died too young, 40, and I grew to think I knew most everything about her. I knew that when she was hungry you needed to feed her quickly. If she grew really quiet after telling you how hungry she was you were in for an angry tirade the Tasmanian Devil himself would run from. I knew that she wasn’t nostalgic, she was always looking ahead, which made us kind of a good pair at the time.
Then at the bottom of one of the treasure chests was this tiny mailbox.
I remembered it. We’d carried it – one of only a few things left over from the years when we’d met and still lived somewhat separate lives.
“That’s a sorority thing,” my daughter said matter-of-fact. “They still do that sort of thing, little boxes and stuff to keep memories in.”
“I know,” I replied, “but your Mom never kept anything in this.”
But as I moved the mailbox I heard something inside, which ruffled my brow a bit. As I opened it little dried pieces of something started to trickle out and a silver sparkle caught the light inside.
“It’s a corsage,” my oldest daughter exclaimed.
“That’s not just any corsage,” I told her. “I gave that to her.”
In 1989, just a few years after that pageant I hadn’t known about, Andrea and I started dating. For me it was wonderful because, well, she was wonderful. I was always reminiscing about those days but I never thought she did.
I remember ordering the flowers. Andrea had been to a myriad of sorority dances and formals and watched friends and roommates with their dates. This one, her senior year, she finally had one of her own and not some schmuck just looking for a date but an honest-to-god boyfriend.
The florist had asked what color her dress was. When I asked she told me “I want it to be a surprise,” so I decided to go with the old standby. I chose roses…red roses because, even in that short period of time, I was already in love with her. It seemed appropriate.
It turned out, of course, that red roses were probably okay but the silver ribbon might very well have clashed a little with the pastel pink dress she wore. Being a strapless dress and with no place to pin the corsage she carried it to the hotel room we shared with her roommates and their respective boyfriends.
There, some two decades later, neatly preserved in a mailbox was this little token. Not very expensive, not even really worth much. It was obviously worth a lot to her, this person who kept little and treasured less.
I looked up and realized the kids were all looking at me, my mouth slightly agape, unable to talk.
“I had no idea she’d even kept this,” I told them. I tried to say something more but the words just caught in my throat and I just looked at the flowers, turning it around in my hands.
I asked my son to get me a plastic bag. The “baby’s breath” was starting to fall off the flower so I placed it gingerly inside the bag and returned the flower to the mailbox. She put it in there, it should stay there.
I put the boxes back in their place and marveled at how the more I knew about my wife, now gone these four-odd years, the more I seemed to learn about her.
It’s not often you get a surprise. Then again…it’s nice to be swept off your feet every once in awhile, too, just like she obviously was the night I gave her those flowers.