Odyssey Treasures

I have a box at the top of my house, hidden away at the back of a room. It is a very battered old box. Pretty scruffy and ugly if truth be told. And most of the year it just sits there. Not getting disturbed much, apart from occasionally being dragged out roughly from its confines in order to enable access to some other box that sits behind it or underneath it.

But every so often, some thing will enter my house. Some small item or piece of paper or card and, as I head up to the bathroom or to the bedroom to turn on a lamp, I might drop this small item on a stair and think

“I must put that in the box later”

Perhaps the next morning this item will accompany me and I will, without ceremony, lift a corner of this box’s battered lid, and slide whatever the item might be into its confines – not looking in the box, or paying any attention to where the item lands. But this is where the item now lives. And will live, for as long as I do too.

It all started over an evening meal in Prague with friends, more years ago than I can now remember. We had just ordered a bottle of red wine to go with our ridiculously cheap, but very satisfying meal. We were all smiling. We had been having a very lovely day.

Myself and our friend’s wife had been ice-skating that afternoon and, as we did so, her husband had built a person shaped creature out of the clothes we discarded on each circuit, as we became progressively hotter whirling around the rink, trying not to fall. When we returned to find our clothes now looked like a living being in their own right, we laughed a great deal at the results of his creation. With our friend’s boots for feet, many scalves to keep it warm, and my own hat atop its head. I took a photo and then we decided it was definitely time for a glass of wine.

As we sat together, enjoying this bottle, our male friend sitting across from me, handed me the cork to the wine bottle. It came with a small plastic bull, attached with a thin red string. Putting it in my hand he said

“You should keep this as an odyssey treasure”

I looked at him blankly

“?”

“Ah, well you see, what you need is a big box. In this box you should keep little items that enter your life and remind you of a lovely time you have spent, or a person you once knew, or some memorable or momentous event. In years to come you can then look through your odyssey treasure box and there will be a lifetime of memories stored there”

When I got home I got a big box. Its first inhabitants: a wine cork with a small plastic bull attached and a picture of a person built out of discarded clothes sitting next to an ice-rink.

This is my box of Odyssey Treasures. It is ugly, and it is stained, and, if I’m honest, completely chaotic. There is no rhyme, or reason I could properly articulate, for the things I deem appropriate to put inside. I just know it when I feel it, and shove such items in as I see fit. Everything is jumbled up. I couldn’t find a specific thing in there very easily if I was trying to. I couldn’t find the cork and the picture for example. But I know that they are all in there, along with heaven only knows what else. I would need a good few hours and nowhere else I need to be in order to do it justice.

It contains myriad random items. Items that remind me of some time that meant something to me, or someone I am now (or was once) close to. It contains:

  • Bags I have loved and are no longer fit for service.

  • Paper flowers made by a barman my friend and I met on holiday (now very squashed).

  • Postcards I kept from my many travels and some I sent home to my husband.

  • A book of poems I wrote when I was 9 years old (illustrated by my best friend at the time as I couldn’t draw). My school sold this book to raise money for charity (and my mum kept a copy for me).

  • Party poppers from my best friends wedding.

  • My PADI certificate for scuba diving in Thailand.

  • A bag made from recycled fish food sacks that I bought in Cambodia.

  • A CD with photos of me hang-gliding in Rio.

  • My scientific calculator from high school – with a Tipp-Exed smiley face and the names of every boy I ever had a crush on scrawled across the back (and then painted over as and when required).

  • A plastic gorilla my niece bought me at the zoo.

  • An ink stamp from my parents’ 30-year business.

  • A picture of myself and my best friend dressed as the Blues Brothers on my 18th Birthday.

  • A map from my 4 day trek to Machu Picchu.

  • The box from the special watch my dad bought me for my 40th.

  • A score-card from a test match I attended at Lord’s – England vs India. It was rained off on the final day and declared a draw.

  • Every newspaper on sale the morning after Prince died (never opened. I was too upset to look).

  • Some very childlike artwork (representing my life’s journey) which I created as part of a week long retreat (I still can’t draw).

  • A programme from the Melbourne Grand-Prix.

  • Packets of favourite family photographs.

  • Brochures from tours I have been on whilst travelling.

  • An inexplicable poster of geese in my favourite childhood village, and the estate agent brochure for the house my parents sold when we left (a place I still dream about, often).

  • My favourite red alpaca hat I bought in Chile (to wear at 4am and -15C when visiting a geyser).

  • A cap from Peru that I bought for my brother and then decided he might not like.

  • A t-shirt from the best rock concert I ever went to (at Brixton Academy).

  • A scroll of the service for my cousin’s wedding in Ireland.

  • A letter with flowers scrawled all over it from my tiny beautiful niece who loved pink (who is now 16 and loves black).

  • The packaging from some plasticine bought for me by a long-lost but never forgotten friend.

  • A card reminding me of the most expensive meal I ever ate.

  • Random drawings (mostly from my husband), created just for my amusement and which make me smile.

  • A set of beautiful Chinese scrolls that my dad gave me, which I never got around to hanging.

  • A coaster with a picture on that my nephew made at school.

  • A cassette tape of wise words made by a friend who thought I might need them.

  • Obsolete money.

  • Left over Paris metro tickets.

  • The key from my first car.

I could go on. That is just scratching the surface. I know the original cork and picture of a person made of discarded clothes are in there somewhere, right at the bottom. I know, there are old letters in there, one from my best friend that made me both laugh and cry – telling me about a dream she had about me whilst I was away in Canada as a student. There are letters written to me from old flames who missed me, letters I wrote to other lost loves who didn’t. Cards with beautiful words from friends. And myriad notebooks, with stories of good times and bad. Many of which I have often wanted to burn (as some of the stories make me cry, or my blood run cold or my face flush with shame).

But I don’t burn them. Partly because I have burnt my history before and lived to regret it. And partly because I know that when I am old, and I rifle through this box again, any pain will be long gone, but the memories will be fresh, and will remind me that I lived a life. That stuff happened to me, and that I too made stuff happen. That it wasn’t dull. And, though I made mistakes, I took the time to record them, and keep them. To remind myself of people and places and pains and joys, laughter and lost loves.

I hope by then I can say

“I wouldn’t change a thing”

Though I think my treasures may deserve a new box.

 

 


Copyright © 2017 · Forty and Everything After

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