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The Iron Box

By: Bill Wucinich

It was 6:30 Saturday morning and Sam was awake as on any ordinary workday. He saw that it was going to be a typically cold, overcast Ohio winter day. One made for those chores that were always last on the "to do" list. Just the kind of day to clean out the Iron Box.

The Box was a small fire-and burglarproof house safe. It had been a wedding gift from Sam's in-laws who felt that security was more important for newly-weds than furniture or dishes.

"Mary what in the world are we going to do with this thing?" Sam asked as he opened the box.

"Dad said that a practical gift was more important than towels. He felt we'll need a place to put important papers so they'll be handy in case we ever need them."

"We don't even own anything that's worth having an important paper for. Besides, I'd rather be dry than sure that all my papers are safe. Do you think your folks would be too upset if we exchanged this Iron Box for something we need…like towels?"

"Sam, we'll never know because the Box stays. You apparently haven't seen the unique lamp your Aunt Tilly and Uncle Mort gave us? Supposedly your family has passed it down from generation to generation. Shall we discuss that tasseled gem?"

"Yeah, but that's a tradition," mustered Sam. A feeble effort. He knew he had just lost the first argument of their marriage.

Thus, after this rocky introduction to the family, the safe became a convenient storage place for odds and ends that, at the time, seemed important enough to keep. The problem was that it now was so full of useless papers that room had to be made for others that would also, in time, become useless.

The Box was kept underneath a stack of boxes in the back of Mary's closet. To get it out, Sam had to crawl underneath the clothes, remove the boxes and drag it out. But he didn't mind because his theory was that burglars would never attempt to take it since they knew they'd be caught before they could get at it.

The plan for emptying it was simple. Everything was to be either kept, thrown away, or temporarily saved pending further consideration. The "throw aways" and "keeps" would be easy. It would be a snap to throw away the warranty on their first washer/dryer and keep the one on the current laundry set. But the "temporaries" could be a problem. After all, how many members of Elks Lodge number 424 had won two consecutive Volunteer of the Year awards. Despite this minor problem, Sam felt he had a clean, simple and organized process.

At first the sort went smoothly. Each pile began to grow as Sam pulled single sheets out of the box and quickly decided where each belonged. But, as he went deeper, he noticed that the "keep" pile was beginning to tower while the other two were shrinking. He found himself keeping old receipts and invoices that should be thrown away. The longer he continued the more he moved items from the "throw away" to the "keep" pile.

This pile now had the receipt for their first self-propelled lawnmower, the coupon payment book for their first living room set and the rental receipts from their first apartment. When his hands touched the bill from the Doctor for the delivery of his only daughter, Sara, he stopped and remembered the night.

"Sam, Sam. Wake up! I think its time."

"I hear you. Be calm. I have everything ready. Where's your suitcase? Didn't I tell you to leave it out? Where are my car keys? Do we need anything else? How can you just stand there? Did you see my socks?"

Realizing that she had to take care of the one she had before worrying about the one that was on its way, Mary took over. She knew her man. Handling the stress of fatherhood would be difficult for him until he got used to the idea. He was a strong, caring man who was used to being in charge. But this was a situation where no one was in control.

"Sam, slow down. Nothing is going to happen for a while yet. Why don't you go to the kitchen and I'll let you know when I'm ready."

By the time they got to the hospital, Sam was in reasonably good shape and only dropped his hospitalization card three times. After filling out all the forms, Mary was finally put in a wheel chair and taken up to the maternity ward.

A short while later Sam was allowed in her room and the wait began. As the minutes turned into hours, Mary kept assuring Sam that she was OK and not to worry. The baby would come as soon as it was ready. The night slowly turned into morning and still nothing happened although the warnings were now coming more often. As if on cue, the nurse cam in, gently took Sam's arm.

"Mr. Hudson, I think its time for you to go to the waiting room. Mary and I have some work to do."

Sam reluctantly got up, kissed Mary and left. Finally, after what seemed like hours. Dr. Grossman came in wearing a wide smile.

"Congratulations Sam. It's a girl. Everyone is fine. We'll have her ready for the coming out party in a few minutes. Then you can hold her.

Sam smiled as he gently placed the invoice in the "keep" pile.

"Old Doc Grossman. What a guy. He must have ribbed me for years about how scared I looked when he told me I could hold her."

He reached into the Box again. The next thing to come out was Sara's First Communion instructions. Then came the Mother's Day cards filled with crooked letters making crooked words telling Mommy how much she was loved. Right under them was the canceled note for their first new car.

"What a car," Sam muttered to himself. "They don't even make two-door station wagons any more."

At the bottom of the Box were the closing papers for their house. Sam laughed as he remember that this time it was Mary's turn to be nervous.

"Sam, are you sure we're doing the right thing? Making payments for a year is one thing but for 15 years is another. What if we miss one? What about Sara's education? What if you're laid off?"

Mary never stopped asking questions during the entire ride to the bank to sign the closing papers.

"You know you're not handy with tools. Remember when you tried to fix the bathroom faucet? This house needs so much work."

Sam patiently answered with his litany of stock answers. He assured her they were well within their budget; that it was always better to buy than to throw away money on rent and have nothing to show for it. So what if it needed a little work. They weren't going to live in it forever anyway. It was a starter. In a few years they would use the equity built up in this one and buy something better.

But all Mary could think of was that what seemed like a good idea at the time was now looking more and more like a mistake. So she tried again.

"Maybe we should wait for another year. I still think the kitchen is too small and Sam going into debt for $12,000. scares me."

"Mary, trust me. Just sign the papers next the "X".

Sam folded the papers.

"I was right Mary," he whispered. "The kitchen worked out just fine. We still have our house. We never did get another. This one just seemed to grow with us until it became as comfortable as an old chair."

Sam continue to sort. His perfect disposal plan was now changed. How could he throw anything away when every piece of paper in the Box carried a memory? Mixed together were report cards, teachers' notes and insurance policies. Individually, they were nothing more than words and numbers. But together, they were the swatches of cloth that formed the guilt, that told the story of his family.

Each item forced to the surface of his mind, memories that had lain dormant for years. To throw any of it away would be like denying the richness of his past. So rather than throwing anything away, he would keep it all. He would continue to add scraps of paper that were the reflection of his day-to-day life. Slowly, he locked the Iron Box and pushed it back in its place, knowing that no matter how full it became, there would always be room for more. In the end, I realized that Mary's Dad had been right. I would never have had this wonderful afternoon with a set of towels.

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