In the movies, pirates always lock their treasure up in a massive chest, but in real life you can find the most valuable things right inside a little tin box.
My sister and I are cleaning up our parents’ house in preparation for sale, so we’ve been busy going through 60 years’ worth of clothing, furniture, books, and little knickknacks—like faux vintage tin boxes.
My mother liked to collect these boxes and put all sorts of stuff inside them—buttons, paper clips, coins, whatever would fit.
We have a tobacco can sitting in the front porch dubbed the “Roly Poly Businessman” because it’s painted to resemble a fat robber baron type puffing away on a pipe.
Some time in the mid-80s the Roly Poly Businessman served as a family bank, where we all put in a certain amount of money every week.
When we had enough cash, we went out for a night on the town: dinner at Gargiulo’s in Coney Island and then on to the theater in Manhattan. I believe the show was Little Shop of Horrors in the Village, but my memory is a little fuzzy.
It was a good idea and we had a lot of fun going out together as a family. But we didn’t stick with the plan for very long.
The Roly Poly Businessman was eventually relegated to the porch and his bright colors have since faded from all those years of sitting in the sunlight.
There’s another tin box that’s been up on a shelf in the dining room for years. Made by Bristol Ware in 1988, the can has two handles and is decorated with images of a woman from the early 20th Century holding a bottle of Coca-Cola.
The thing has been there for so long I don’t really see it anymore. I always assumed it was empty, but when I opened it last week I found out that I had been wrong.
There was no cash, no jewels, no gold doubloons, or documents proving that we’re all related to the Queen of England.
No, it was just a small stack of recipes that my mother had cut out of newspapers many years ago. The moment I saw them she came right back to me-it was almost like finding a letter from her—and I started crying.
They’re all crinkled and brown with age now. One of the few that has a visible date goes back to January 27, 1988. It’s a recipe for pot-roasted chicken with garlic, carrots, onions and potatoes there that serves three or four.
Dinner is Served
On the back of another—“Georgia’s Finest Peace and Peanut Cake” are coupons from the A&P advertising a two-liter bottle of Pepsi for 79 cents and box of Oreos for $1.69. I can only imagine how old those are.
They’re only bits of paper, but they remind me so much of my mother—I can see her sitting in the living room with her glasses on carefully cutting out the recipes and putting them aside for use at some future date.
I don’t think she ever made any of these dishes. So I guess one lesson here is that you should do things as soon as you can before you run out of time.
But the real takeaway is that even though she didn’t make those meals, at least my mother was trying to do something different, trying to break out of a routine and learn new things.
I have this fantasy where I make a deal with God to bring my mother back to us just long enough for her to finally make all these dishes.
Let her return to the kitchen that I barely use now, pick up the pots and pans that haven’t been touched in years. Give her the chance to make cod fillet in lime salsa, oven-fried chicken, baked French toast with orange syrup, and Italian-style stuffed artichoke.
Let us hear her sing all the old songs she loved so much while she chopped up the vegetables and prepared the meat. Let her call us to the table again and again—“Jim! Joan! Peter! Robert!”—and let’s all sit down for dinner night after night.
I’m not the finicky eater I was as a child, so I’ll gladly clean my plate and ask for seconds. Hell, I’ll even eat asparagus for her. And then we can have desert, like Roman holiday cookies, blueberry Italian cheesecake, and plum torte.
But I’m greedy and I know if we ever had the chance to get my mother back we’d never let her go. I’d just go on cutting recipes out of the newspaper so she could stay with us forever.
As we continue to clean up the house there will no doubt more discoveries like this, more opportunities to cry and remember the good times and the ones we love so much. There will be more treasures to find.