Tin Box Stories

Last Monday my parents came to Toronto to celebrate their birthdays. This means they take Dax and I out to the posh place of our choice AND pick up the tab. Of course, the visit also brings with it homemade cookies, some archives (“do you want these things?” We found them in the attic.”) and newspaper clippings.

My mother has clipped articles and ripped features out of magazines for me for years. I have come to expect it and am disappointed if I don’t get an envelope full. She is my multi-media connection to my hometown, and abroad. Kiley  gets clippings too (and sometimes our clippings are misdirected—“Didn’t you go to high school with so-and-so? They just had a ________________ (baby, engagement or wedding).”

My clipping envelope has now evolved into a tin box to house a decade of clippings. And postcards. And ticket stubs.  What started off so innocently (a scrapbooker’s  dream of Brantford Expositor news and quirky Toronto Star features) has transformed into my hard drive. Some of the gems date back to 2000, which for me, is an era now deemed as a “historical event.”

This visit, my dad carted in two mandarin orange crates full of cassette tapes. “I don’t know if you’ll listen to these or not, but we found them in the attic.” (Hours later my father realized I probably didn’t have a tape deck anymore—but he was pretty sure there was still one in the basement that he could clean up). Sorting through the tapes was a nostalgic throw-back to a time when I couldn’t get enough of Janis Joplin with Big Brother and The Holding Company. I smiled to see the soundtrack to Northern Exposure, Sinead O’Connor, Bjork, Kiley’s drama exam ?(Kiley—do you want this?), Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, Catie Curtis, Tori Amos, Indigo Girls and The Cranberries. Vintage finds were the Jann Arden Time For Mercy, an autographed Radiate (Carole Pope), a mixed tape from my friend Toni and Jane Siberry.

Naturally, my minimalist self didn’t want a bunch of crappy cassette tapes. But, I couldn’t part with the Carole autograph and Jann’s cassette. So, I slipped the J-cards out of the plastic cases and put them in the tin box. And then, at 3:43 am I decided it would be a perfect time to start looking through the contents of my tin box.

This was the first (ripped out of the Star or the Globe & Mail at some point) thing I read: “ British art director Storm Thorgerson observed recently: People like objects. Objects tend to fashion their lives and serve as memory. People take their favourite objects whenever they move, and those objects often define who they are.”

This tin box is like peering into my innards for the last decade. There are love letters, running bibs, folded and worn horoscopes for Virgo, postcards, San Francisco trolley tickets, Coco Chanel quotes (“I only drink Champagne on two occasions: when I am in love and when I am not.”), a pic of my dream scooter (a 49 c.c. Honda Ruckus, suggested retail $2,849) and a zen-inducing photo of The Four Seasons Golden Triangle in Thailand (“Arrive by riverboat through bamboo forests, live and slumber in a 581-square-foot tent with private deck…refresh yourself (and your partner) in an open-air shower, or luxuriate together  in a handmade copper tub…take bareback elephant excursions through the forest…arrive at your couple’s spa treatment by way of an Indiana Jones-style suspension bridge…or just sip sundowner cocktails at the Burma Bar and listen to the melodious sounds of another world.” )Starting at $1,200 a night.

I laugh to find a poem scrawled on a Player’s Light cigarette pack from a woman named Linda. Kelly and I met her at a bar on Church street. Linda was quite enamoured with both of us, and was certain her husband would be as well. As she hugged and squeezed us (within an inch of our life) goodbye, she slipped me the cigarette pack poem:

Roses are Red

Violets grow in pools

Too bad for me

I wish I knew you’s from school.

Call me! Both of you! Linda (followed by her phone number)

Postcards from the edge

The tin box also contains a heap of postcards—a Torti family travelogue if you will. I re-read the exploits of my parents in Scotland, Ireland, Sleepy Hollow (NY), Colorado, Myrtle Beach, Sleeping Bear Dunes (Lake Michigan), Quebec, Rhode Island and Holland. Eight out of ten are from my dad’s perspective, which usually involves commentary on his lack of beach time due to my mom’s tight cemetery tour itinerary, golf courses that he wasn’t allowed to play at (due to time constraints—see above), vivid descriptions of the rental car and a hilarious outtake of when my dad collapsed a Pepsi shelf display at a grocery store in Quebec when my mother startled him (I never did get my mom’s version on that one).

The Kiley Torti GPS was haywire this past decade. Postcards came in from these outposts:  Tierra Del Fuego (Argentina), Maui, The Great Barrier Reef, Alaska, a Churchill polar bear expedition and San Francisco. Kiley’s postcards are printed in a 7 point font, describing every breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack in between.  There’s a lot of summit talk, given her love of mountains and conquering them (Mt. Haleakala summit: 10,032 ft).

My favourite postcard from Dax? It came from Holland: “I’ve been to tons of museums and had a lot to drink. Today we’ll be having a drink at the first spot where they made gin. Oh, and the Bols factory makes some damn good drinks. Gay pride starts tonight so I’m sure we’ll all be a mess. Tah tah, Dax.”

Dax from London: “I totally have pulled a mom, travelling everywhere east, west, north and south, even if it killed me. We had an attic room complete with a rooftop deck and Kohler tub. Today I finished at Kew Gardens—I’ve never seen such huge greenhouses and plantings!”

Of course the tin box also contains its share of melancholy.  On September 6th, 2005, Dr. Jacqueline Perry, age 30, was mauled by a black bear in Missinaibi Provincial Park near Chapleau, Ontario. Her husband, Mark Jordan desperately tried to fend off the bear with a Swiss Army knife, which he slashed five times. Mark carried Jacqueline to their kayak and began to paddle to a nearby campsite. A father and son from Pennsylvania who were camping nearby heard his calls of distress and came to their rescue in a pontoon boat. They flagged down another boat that carried a doctor from North Carolina and an off-duty police officer. The doctor treated Jacqueline as the boat continued to the park office, about 10 km away. She died of her sustained injuries.

Jacqueline was a star student, so exceptionally bright I was known to cheat off her math tests (shhh). I sat behind her in a few classes and hounded her for several things over the years—pens, erasers, a sheet of paper. She was always gracious, even when I did this on a daily basis. I can see her smiling in the hallowed halls of Brantford Collegiate Institute (BCI), clutching text books to her chest–because that’s what she always did. She smiled and laughed in an unleashed way that was beautiful.

These clippings still disturb me. “Woman Remains in Hospital After Crash.” “Woman Still in Hospital Following Accident.” “City Woman Dies in Hospital From Injuries.” On November 26th, 2006, my dear friend Emily’s mother died. Susan Malcolm taught my sister and brother grade nine English. She was well-loved by all faculty and students who fell under her spell. Especially me. She was the most stunning woman I had ever met. She would always wink at me as I sped by to my next class, and had a smile that brought immediate calm. Even her eyes smiled.

On November 16th she was in a two-vehicle collision on Highway 99. She died 10 days later, finally succumbing to her severe injuries.  A 42-year-old man was charged with careless driving. Careless driving? That’s it? He took an angel from this earth.

I unfold a page carefully ripped from Maclean’s magazine. On May 9th, 2007, a beloved visual arts and drama teacher from BCI was killed in Malawi, Africa. She was travelling with a group of friends to the Home of Hope orphanage to deliver art supplies to the children. As they neared the orphanage a tire exploded on their van and Sandy Wilson was thrown from the vehicle and died within the hour at an area hospital. A dynamic painter and sculptor, it was her dream to travel to Africa and share her artistic passion with the children. Her suitcases were bulging with pigment, a paper-making machine, brushes and kites made by local kindergarten students.

Sandy, an ovarian cancer survivor, left behind her life partner, Valerie Leanage.  “I see her as a victory figure,” said Leanage who admitted she was coping by believing Sandy is still on a big trip in a far-off land (As told to reporter Susan Gamble at the Brantford Expositor).

Sandy let me squeeze my way onto the school trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico and the Grand Canyon with the BCI Native Club. She laughed with me when I was upset that no one would buy my home made dream catchers that we sold as a fundraiser (due to my non-native-ness). She picked me up on more than one occasion when I was walking home in dismal weather—and stopped even when the weather wasn’t dismal to see if I was okay. She was generous with her time and gifts and an absolute treasure to the high school art department.

The tin box grew heavier on each of those days.

I sort the obituaries from engagement notices and find a Globe obit for Joan Fox, a radical film reviewer. She loved the work of Claude Jutra and kept company with Doris Anderson, long-time editor of Chatelaine. She was pals with women’s rights activist Dorothy Cameron, an art dealer made famous “when the Toronto Police’s morality squad removed seven works from her Eros ’65 show for their alleged obscenity.” Fox was active with anti-censorship and adored Elvis Presley films. At her funeral, an Elvis impersonator (hired by her son), rose from a pew and sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Joan Fox was working on her memoirs. “The tales of a girl who came to Toronto to watch the movies.” The tales filled several boxes in her home.

I suppose everyone has their Tin Box, of varying dimensions. I have Amsterdam street maps, Charlottetown, PEI horse betting stubs ($2 WIN!), half-marathon course maps from BC, drawings on airplane serviettes by ex-girlfriends and circled book reviews (Sailing Away From Winter—A Cruise From Nova Scotia to Florida and Beyond by Silver Donald Cameron: a recount of a 236-day trip he, his wife and their whippet took on a 33-foot ketch named Magnus).

There’s a heap of absurd stories about The Burning Man Festival and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (or the Church of St. Mary in the Hollow of White Hazel Trees near the Rapid Whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the Red Cave in Wales). It’s the longest place name in the world—the triple-long train tickets became collector’s items. In other news I have clips of Petra the swan who fell in love with a swan-shaped paddleboat in Muenster, Germany (she refused to leave the boat’s side, but reportedly found a new mate, a white swan, and was last seen building a nest with the non-boat swan).

“Masked robbers bag birds’ nests”—nests of the swiftlet birds, prized for their medicinal value were stolen from Ming Heng Ginseng Dry Foods at the Richmond Mall in BC. The nests are used to make bird’s nest soup which reportedly sharpens the appetite of the elderly and those recovering from surgery. (The nests retail at $200 for 37 grams = 2 to 3 bowls of soup).

There’s more—articles on the new Beer 101 course at a university in Halifax, an interview with a fortune cookie writer (on rejected fortunes),  a feature on Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis (who lived in a cottage 3.5 metres wide by 3.5 metres long—every inch of it painted) and a review of the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant  in the Maldives.

God, there’s even a menu for Evelyn’s Coffee Bar in Banff (best lemon yogurt and ginger crinkle cookies), 56 birthday cards and a getaway guide to Portland, Oregon (Cacao—150 pure artisanal chocolate bars from around the world, decadent drinking chocolate infused with chilli; Teardrop—locally made Aviation gin with notes of cardamom, lavender, sarsaparilla and dried orange peel; Powell’s City of Books—world’s largest independent bookstore at 68,000 square feet). I also uncover a rejection letter from Arsenal Pulp Press for my manuscript “Accidental Love and Death,” and the nicest letter from my boss Farrah when I quit my job at the Wild Orange Spa because I thought there were greener pastures elsewhere. She hired me back months later when I realized the grass wasn’t so fertilized elsewhere.

There’s a post-it note from Dax listing my birthday package contents from age 31 (?): Homemade Oreo Biscotti, Galaxy chocolate bar (London), Sparklers. Who Hoo! and a returned letter from April 18th, 2003 that I sent my sister when she worked on Disney Cruise Lines out of Cape Canaveral, Florida (which I am going to forward!).

Whew. It’s been a trip. I feel well-loved and well-lived. I hope everyone has a Tin Box of stories and cigarette poems. I can’t part with a single item because they all resonate with me in some vibrating way and remind me that we do carry our favourite objects with us. And my favourite objects are my family and friends and all the postcards and letters sent in between our absences.

So tell me, what’s in your Tin Box?

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

Post navigation

9 thoughts on “Tin Box Stories

  1. I suspect tin boxes are shrinking, if not actually disappearing, now that fewer people are getting their news from print media. Sure, you can print a story from the Internet, but how many of us actually do? And then there are letters–who writes them in the e-mail age? Not me, but I treasure several bags and boxes full of correspondence dating back to my teen years. Recently I found one of my old classmates online and was delighted to be able to send her several vividly written letters that revealed her young self to her.

  2. kay lefevre

    I can see why this is one of your favs, LOVED this one!

    You are the backhoe driver of our memories, dredging up all these great names, places and things, what a pleasant trip back to the attic!

    I have a huge scrapbook of my running stuff, all the race numbers, courses, medals and photos. It WAS in a tin box for a long time.

  3. Linda L

    It’s so difficult to dispense of tangible records. I too save too many treasures. Recently Mom have me several large boes of ‘old’ scrapbooks, dating back to the 70’s loaded with items from school, letters and postcards, newsclippings and all sorts of memorabilia. Using the one year rule…I’ve NEVER looked at these scrapbooks and realized I must dispense with them, still I had to have one last look. Later Peter saw a partial pile and laughed asking what on earth? He agreed the junk must be dispensed with but wanted a gander before doing so. Provided for lots of laughs…imagine Elton John ticket stubs indicating a charge of $3.50!

    In last years Christmas letter I mentioned how touched I was to receive an old fashioned hand written postcard from Ireland last summer, it is so rare that anyone takes the time anymore, email is so convenient. But it doesn’t have the unique ‘thumbprint’ of the individual. In last year’s file I have a memorial card for a dear uncle. On the back of the card was his favorite poem handwritten by him. This touched me so deeply, it was his hand, I recognized it, how much more valuable than just a typed version! I have managed to encourage a others to write something by hand for me. These treasures I will keep forever.

    Yes Jules, this was a very good piece! Thanks!

    PS I didn’t get rid of everything, I just couldn’t, letters especially! And I now realize I will NEVER, ever, give a card without a personal inscription, it means nothing.

  4. Whit

    My tin box is a series of shoe boxes that have collected various items since my childhood… i guess you could call me a pack-rat for it but I re-realise their importance in my life this past November. There’s probably about 6 or 7 of them now but only a few that have made it to Peterborough.

    My dad’s house was flooded and we had to rebuild the whole thing. Our lives, or what me and my brothers didn’t take to university, were packed in boxes and sent to a mysterious storing location while they tore our house apart by the drywall. It took over 2 months and some heartbreaking photos before we had a place to live again. The house itself holds memories for me because Dad and I built it after I moved out of my mom’s house at 15. We designed it and in a time when both of our lives didn’t have roots, we found common ground to bring us home.

    When we finally got the house back together, we each needed to sort through the boxes of our left-over belongings. Sorting through I pulled out 3 different shoe boxes that have held scraps of my life for years. It was over a rye and diet that I sat down and re-read the cards, poems, ticket stubs and looked at the pictures I’ve kept. Within the shoe-boxes I found my dried corsage from Lynne and Al’s wedding, my first baby picture, a letter from my gr.8 teacher expressing how proud she was of me for doing all that I had, a book from the class I co-opted in during my gr.12 year, an obituary notice for Pauline Hudson a grandmother of mine for so many years, my air plane ticket to PEI – the same trip your winning horse ticket stub came from (I still remember winning that night on a horse called “a gal named al”). Looking at those moments brought tears, laughter and helped me look back on the things that I’ve gone through.

    The shoe boxes have been moved to a Rubbermaid tote now to ensure that no further flooding could damage them. Off all the pictures and relics I have accumulated, the shoe boxes have always been the place where I store the pieces of my heart. I encourage you once a year to take a night and spend it with your tin box and remember the stories that have and continue to shape our lives.

  5. karin

    This is my favourite of yours too. Bravo for reigniting a very important tradition or making sure we don’t throw out our old nicks and nacks. Having just moved, I was trying to be ruthless in throwing out “the old”, but the heavy, awkward vinyl has stayed on, so have the cassettes and boxes of photo albums. Best of all is an old cardboard box, full of cards, gallery brochures, postcards, love letters and silly drawings, and now including a beautiful postcard for Valentine’s Day “My heart pounds for you” that features a picture of the Queen in the shape of a heart from my favourite massage therapist/runner/traveller/explorer/jet fuel and king eddy patron/writer and extraordinary luminary. Me feels lucky.

  6. Kiley Torti

    Busted! You are “collective”. Here I thought I should be getting rid of all this stuff but it soudsn like you would approave of “downsizing”. My drama exam on tape? Good lord – that should be a douzy. Hold on to that one – I’d love to listen to it. Now only if I had Vera’s voicemail when she called my private phone in highschool for the 1st time…. “I don’t know what the F*** I’m doing…”

    I’m also looking forward to reading the latter you sent to me back in my ship life days. 2002? 2003? Should be a good one.

    Love Nims

  7. connie

    Thanks Jules. It has been entertaining to read this and very informative too.

    Throughout my life it seems as if everyone has teased me or ridiculed me in some manner for saving so many “little” things. Those people just do not “get it”. All these little mementoes are like the tissues that create my physical presence – they are what I am – only they are not as visible to the average person. From cards and letters from my days as a child visiting my grandparents far from home to hockey cards, shiny brass buttons from my Dad’s OPP uniform, Dad’s obituary and those of several other close family members and friends, some of my own braids in white paper envelopes that were cut off when I was in elementary school, a Sterling silver bracelet from Paris from my favourite teacher, Miss Adams who taught me far more than French in grade 9; she opened my eyes to culture!, newspaper articles of friends and those I admired, some of my own accomplishments, ribbons won at country fairs for prize-winning writing, notebooks, art and vegetables, pictures of beloved family and friends from the three places I grew up, a stuffed Little Brown Bat, stones, bones, feathers, and jewel-like pieces of sea glass, my dog Spot’s little collar that I knit and embroidered when I was 9, pressed flowers and shiny Maple leaves, my cherished Turquoise Estherbrook Fountain Pen from my Grandparents in grade 5 AND the Peacock Blue ink bottle!, poems and drawings written for me and by me, love letters and crazy cards from my husband from every year since we met! ( all 40 of them!), postcards that reminded me of how much I was loved and missed . . . they all are part of who I was then and who I am today – a person with a heart and love for many people, places and things.

    These “little” things are what I am all about on the “inside”. Can I part with them? Why?

    I love museums and art galleries, so when I visit my collection of treasures stowed away in a variety of containers that reflect the decades the contents represent themselves, I feel as if I am in my very own little museum.

    I enjoy the grins, chuckles and perhaps even the tears that stream down my burning cheeks as I gasp for my breath because they represent reality to me in an old-fashioned concrete way and it feels good to revisit those times when I see and touch them.

    Who else cares about such things? It doesn’t matter to me. It is private and so it should be.

    I could organize them into some kind of order . . . Why? I have everything I need to “Scrapbook” precious items such as those found in my boxes and how much have I done? One page – our son as an infant! I am also amused as I realize that I seem to prefer a lack of order and frills for a change, which is fun because most people see me as the opposite in everyday life.

    Jules, I didn’t intend to be this lengthy in my reply. Sorry. I guess you touched a soft spot in my heart and memory with your wonderfully scripted passages that reflect who you are too. I love your writing! Thank you for sharing so many of your own private little treasures. It is not something I do comfortably anymore and I feel a little better now having given you a tiny glimpse into my own “tin box”.

    P.S. What is even more amusing is the discovery I made when I took a break part way through writing this. My most recent containers into which I had transferred some of the most valuable items in my collection are actually TIN BOXES!!! I had forgotten about the significance of them until you reminded me. Thanks for that too!

  8. Chaeles Bagli

    Man, I love bird’s nest soup too– even IF its made from spit!!!

    I eat it like once every month-ish and used to buy it from this website: hongkong-bird-nest.50webs.com/index_e.htm Sometimes, my mom went back to Hong Kong and bought a full suitcase of it cause it’s cheaper there XD


    My name is Kris and I am the neice of SANDY WILSON….your story of how she touched your life as a teen at BCI touched my heart and brought back a flood of wonderful memories of her. It was a tragic loss to our family and to many of the lives she had touched throughout her short life. I would love to hear more from you if you are still monitoring this site! I know she is still watching over all she loved and laughed with..


    Kris Waters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: