I have a music box in my room. It took me an entire year to find it, or rather, it took my mom a year. It is one of my most prized possessions, and I give it so much sentimental value that I would go ape all over anyone who tried to steal it. Like, irreplaceable so much that I would track you to the ends of the earth to get it. If my house were on fire, I would grab that music box before jumping out the window. If I had to evacuate right now and take only a single bag with me, that box would be in the bag. It's possible I'll ask whoever is around when I'm old, to put that box in a container and set it on my grave when I die. It's that ridiculously important.
The box proper isn't very interesting. It's a little plastic and wood box, about 2x3 inches. The top section is a pale tan wood, and the bottom is clear. You can see the little turning cylinder with nubs, rotating inside the structure, when it runs. It has a silver key that you use to wind it up, and it's purely mechanical. No batteries, just a wire coil that tightens and loosens with the key. Pressed into the top of the box and inked are the words "How Great Thou Art."
As you would expect, turn the key and the cylinder starts moving, and the nubs flick little flaps of steel to the tune of "How Great Thou Art." Classic music box twang.
See, this is so important to me, because my grandmother owned this box. It's certainly older than I am; I don't know precisely how old it is beyond that. When I was a kid, I'd sit on her couch and wind it up as far as it could go, then watch the little cylinder turn, and listen to the music play until it got slow, then I would push the key and make it keep going until it couldn't run on its own. Then I'd do it again. It's just the chorus to the song, but I thought it was beautiful.
My grandmother died two days after my birthday, on March 23, 2010. That's also less than two months before my graduation, which I really wanted her to attend, so she could see a close to my school years. That never happened, though we kept her graduation ticket anyway. I only wanted three things from her old possessions, all of which she left to my mother: a gold locket on a chain, an old sewing machine mounted into a table, and that music box. Mom got the house and everything in it, and she said I could take whatever I wanted. Part of me really wanted to just grab everything that wasn't nailed down, as if I could keep her memory stronger and/or more reverently and/or just better by piling up stuff. I screamed inside at the thought that anyone would own her house, or any of her furniture, or any of her clothes, but us.
But we couldn't keep the house as some kind of shrine, no matter how much it smelled familiar, and how many times I'd played in that crawl space under the side, and how cute the faux-well was at the top of the hill, or...any of that. Some young couple owns it now. I hope they treat it with respect.
So in the end, I shoved back the desire to keep everything, and decided on those three things. Two of them are in Boston with me -- the shippable things, namely the locket and the box.
Two and a half years later, the memory has become more calmly solemn and reverent than piercing and empty in turn. I no longer want to scream at the universe so much about how unfair it was that Grandmother died only two months before she could see my landmark day that she would be so proud of, or that she didn't die peacefully in bed, but instead in a hospital after breaking both hips. I no longer feel quite so bad about fleeing the funeral as quickly as I could, or about having to force myself to cry at the ceremony despite feeling completely blank, just to convince everyone else that I wasn't trying to be an Overly Strong Person. Really it was as if someone had sucker-punched my soul and I didn't have any chance to react. I didn't viscerally get it the way others seemed to; I had these random spurts of intense despair, rather than a predictable "you cry when you see her stuff, or when you go to the funeral, or whatever." I walked around her house and ate the food others left for her family, without much of a thought, and I only cried when no one was around, because I think my subconscious decided that this was the appropriate time for it. Besides, my mom was so sad, that my guardian instincts kicked in and wanted to help her, rather than giving myself any time for much. I cried a lot when I got back to Boston, but not so much at home. I regret not going on the funeral procession, but...I don't know why I didn't.
If I had to say anything to people today, about that incident, I might. I might ask my aunt why she rarely visited her mother, and why she didn't contribute to the upkeep of her house and all that, while my mom was a tireless glad helper. I might ask my uncle why he was such a failure at life, having thrown his money away gambling and mooched off his friends for most of his time, and why he disappointed his mother so much. I might ask the doctors why there was nothing more they could do for a couple of broken bones. I might ask myself why I didn't throw classes to the wind to go sit by her side until something got better or worse, so I could have held her hand while she was moving on. I might ask God why His sense of timing was so utterly cruel, as if it was deliberately planned to be a trip-at-the-finish-line. I guess I don't have as much of a desire to ask all that anymore, because what is it going to do?
The song from the music box is an old Christian hymn. It became Grandmother's song, over the years, because I always associated it with her, and she spent so much time with me that it rubbed off on her. I asked my mom to have it played at the funeral, and so it was, a music box made real for that while.
I don't pretend to understand why God let any of that happen when it did. I don't even know if God chooses things like that, really. Does God time everything right, to make sure the most good comes out of it? Or does life just really suck sometimes? Is Grandmother up in heaven tending roses and playing the piano? Can she see me? I don't really know any of that.
One point of regret I do have, is that Grandmother couldn't give me her music box herself. I had been asking about it for years, and she had lost it. Turns out it was just in a drawer of her nightstand, and Mom found it while cleaning out her things. So, a year after Grandmother's death, I took the music box home with me. It sits on my shelf and waits there, just like it always waited on the table in her living room. There's not much I can do with the memories these days; they sit like the box does, and they're not so powerful that they show up a lot, but there's always a little gap there when I go home.
Grandmother was a tireless Christian. She had more faith than some entire churches probably do. She firmly believed that God had everything under control, and even when life sucked, God was still there for you. If I had half the faith she did, I could move mountains. Even with an alcoholic husband, a delinquent son, and only one daughter who actually paid any attention to her, Grandmother was an unshakable pillar of stone. You could hide in her shadow, and the wind and the rain couldn't reach you. You could climb onto her strength, and no monsters could find you. She would be standing through Hell and high water. It would take an act of God Himself to make her back down from anything she had decided on. So I guess it's fitting, in the end, that her anthem is a song of praise.
The box is perfectly functional. If you wind it up, it still plays...
"Then sings my soul,
My savior, God, to thee
How great thou art
How great thou art."