Archive for November, 2007

Mysteries of the bank box

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

I won’t walk you through the exact sequence of events that caused me to wander out to my garage and retrieve the carton containing the items from my mother’s safe deposit box, which had been sent to me after she died two years ago. That’s the kind of useless detail that clutters up a good story. Instead, I’ll tell you about the things I found when I examined the box’s contents.

There was the normal things, like important papers, treasured family photos, jewelry, gems and commemorative coins minted for special occasions. None of those, however, were particularly interesting. The puzzlers were items like the receipt from a visit my little brother made to the doctor in 1963, when he was seven years old. Or a collection of recipes involving various fruit juices. How did those things earn a spot in my mother’s safe deposit box? (Actually, once I saw that among the recipes was one for “Individual Prune Molds” made with lemon juice, I concluded that my mother may have sought to hide them as a matter of public safety.)

Then there was the item that was listed thusly in the inventory of the box’s contents: “2 molars (teeth).”

That’s right. Dear old momma had stored somebody’s teeth in her safe deposit box. I’ve asked several other relatives whose teeth they might be, and nobody has a clue. I only hope she came by them honestly. I’d prefer to not have the family named dragged through an episode of “Snapped.”

But the most revealing thing I found in the box was a matched set of death notices dating from the 1940s, two scraps of yellowed newsprint that had grown brittle with age. One of them was for my paternal grandmother, who died first, and the other was for her husband, my grandfather, who died two and a half years later. He’d remarried after my grandmother died, and his death announcement dutifully listed the second wife among his survivors. His children were listed, too — but only four of them. The two children he had with Missus No. 2 were conspicuously absent from the obituary.

With a little help from the family historian, I pieced together the explanation. You see, most of my father’s family had lived on the same block, and they hadn’t accepted the presence of the second wife among them. While they couldn’t ignore her totally, they could turn their backs on her children. It didn’t matter that the youngsters’ only offense was to be born. Disapproval came with their birth, just as surely as the rest of us came into this world with original sin. So their existence wasn’t even acknowledged.

It bears repeating: They were only children. I’d heard that the members of my father’s family apparently had some hard bark on them. But it takes a parched soul to visit grievances upon the innocent. I am sad to know this about the people whose blood runs through my veins.