A Box Full of Memories

Also published at Medium.com on January 16, 2017

Almost 45 years have passed since the death of my father and yet memories still linger. They lurk in the back of my mind, stimulated by little things that make old connections.
One of those items is an old silver tie clip, one with an Art Deco design that dates back to the 1940’s or perhaps earlier, that was once his. Because it slides on, rather than clamps, I often use it as a money clip, especially when I travel in cities where I don’t want to always be reaching for my wallet.
Recently, on an evening with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at Usher Hall here in Edinburgh, I lost it. I’m not sure where, perhaps it was at a pub called Shakespeare’s next to the concert hall or when I was buying drinks at intermission. Regardless, when I returned home it was gone. I checked all my pockets several times, but it was nowhere to be found. I felt certain that it was gone forever.
While Dad’s old tie clip must be at least 75 years old, it has little monetary value. Its value is strictly sentimental, one of a few tangible items I still have that connect the two of us. As a result, my sense of loss was great.
We tried calling the places where it might have been dropped, but it was a holiday and no one answered the phone. Given that it was so small, there seemed little hope of recovering it because it was the kind of thing that could easily be vacuumed away by the cleaners without being noticed.
Mourning its loss, I began thinking about other mementos stored in my jewelry box, currently packed away in storage in the U.S. For most of us, the stuff we keep in such places is usually insignificant, at least with respect to its economic value. It’s the memories contained within them that are important. Mine, for example, is overflowing with things that retrace my life and make connects with departed individuals.
Although my old jewelry box is almost four thousand miles away, I can easily recall many of the items in it. There is a 1923 “Peace” Silver Dollar, minted the year my mother was born, and a little gold band that was my baby ring, a tradition that seems to have disappeared from our society. There is the miniature sergeant’s badge I was given for being on the Safety Patrol in junior high school, as well as an assortment of items from my service in the Marine Corps, including metal chevrons, marksmanship badges, a grenade pin and a good conduct metal.
Juxtaposed against the military items are the pin I got when I served in VISTA, the domestic Peace Corps, and a beaded roach clip from the 1960’s. There is a Lenin pin from my days with the American Bar Association, given to be me by a member of a visiting delegation of Soviet lawyers, and there are assorted lapel pins from various organizations to which I once belonged. There is even a Cub Scout pin earned for taking my oldest son to pack meetings.
Included among this assortment of mementoes are five other tie clips, including another silver one, very similar my father’s, that once belonged to his grandfather, a man who lived into his late eighties, dying when I was just ten. He was a tall stoic fellow, a Baptist deacon, who was born just five years after the end of the Civil War and served as Tallahassee’s police chief during World War I.
There are two gold tie clips, the hinged kind that bite like alligator jaws, that once belonged to uncles. One has a large Masonic seal on the face and belonged to my Uncle Milford, a giant of a man who stood more than six feet five inches tall. He was a crane operator who had a glass eye, walked with a limp and was never without a joke. The other belonged to my Uncle Fred and has his name in a raised script. Fred was the first person in the family to earn a graduate degree, and the man who introduced me to British literature and classical music. If it hadn’t been for World War II, he might have become a music professor because of his knowledge and intense love of music.
I also have two tie tacks, the kind that pierce the tie and hold it to the shirt with a little chain. One is black with a gold rampant lion, the royal symbol of Scotland. It is the only one that is just mine, dating back to my college days. The other is gold with a large letter M. It came with matching cufflinks, given to me by my first wife’s Aunt Irma because I was the only one in the family whose last name began with the same letter as her late husband, a flashy dressing salesman of the 1950’s named Malone.
All of these odd little relics provide connections with the past, bringing back fond memories of people I knew and loved. Thus, it is easy to understand why I felt so sad at having lost my father’s tie clip, one of the most important items in my collection.
Then, two days later, as I left our flat, I happened to look down at a break in the wet, black curb stone, just a few steps from the front door of the building. There I saw something shiny. As I reached down to examine it, I realized it was my father’s tie clip. I must have dropped it getting out of the taxi on our return from the concert. As I picked it up, it seemed a little shinier than I remembered and I put it back into the safety of my pocket knowing that this was one connection I would hold a little bit tighter in the future.
© 2017 David Lee McMullen


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