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The Contents of my Grandmother’s Music Box

March 17, 2014

A weekly reader-contributed feature in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine is called “Mine” with the subheading, “So much of life is contained in such small things. What holds meaning for you?”

Yesterday’s item, a tiny electric motor from a toy boat that a man keeps from his grandfather’s treasures reminded me powerfully of a music box that came into my possession after my grandmother, Ruth May Loucks Stauffer (mother’s mother) died in 1991.


On the bottom of my Grandmother’s music box it says “Isola Di Capri” (Island of Capri) and “Made in Italy,” with “Swiss Musical Movement.”


I visited Italy with my parents in December 1973 when they came to Europe for about 10 days when I spent my junior year in Spain. They landed in Rome and we took a one day trip to the Isle of Capri. I wasn’t much into buying “souvenirs” that year and brought very few back with me. So this gift, which my mother gave to her mother and then passed on to me after Grandma died reminds me of how spare I was buying stuff for myself that year (couldn’t afford it and philosophically, I felt that souvenirs were what tourists did and I wasn’t a tourist). But I’m oh so grateful for this belated treasure from an enchanted day spent on the Isle of Capri with my parents. (All my photos of Italy and Capri are slides. Bummer. Check here for some lovely images.)


I love that Grandma wrote in a hidden place inside, “Bertha’s gift bought in Italy April 1974.” (Likely April was when Grandma received the box from my mother, since they lived 900 miles away and probably didn’t visit until spring or Easter following that big trip to Europe at Christmas.)


But the other touches that make Grandma’s music box so special are the trinkets she kept  inside: hospital I.D. bracelets from three different hospital stays. (How could I ever part with them, since Grandmother didn’t?) Two have only her name and esoteric hospital numbers but one is dated 2/6/76, the year I got married in May, which probably explains why I don’t remember anything about her hospitalization that year.


There is also a tiny “Get Well Soon” card such as what would come with a floral gift. It is signed “From your special helper Penny” and on the back Grandma wrote “This penny a gift on Mother’s Day while I was in Muncie [Ind.] hospital, from Penny Sneed. She helped me walk first, a nice little girl.” The penny, taped to the card, was minted 1974.


So wherever you are, Penny Sneed, “a nice little girl” and likely a nurse aid or perhaps volunteer in Muncie, Ind., thank you for your little namesake gift and helping Grandma walk again (hip surgery?). Apparently Penny’s personality touched my grandmother deeply or she would not have kept it.

I’ll use the Post’s question as my invite for comments:

“So much of life is contained in such small things. What holds meaning for you?”

What older thing are you keeping just because it is special to you?


You can read more about my adventures in Spain (and Italy and elsewhere) from my memoir of that year, Departure, still available from those wonderful booksellers who collect out of print books and keep them circulating through Amazon. (original cover not shown in picture).


From → Faith, Family Life

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