The road had pretty much washed away, a pair of shallow ruts marking the last times a vehicle drove over it. The grass was high, on both sides of the ruts and between them, weedy grass that would never be a lawn. The car bounced and heaved over and into the ruts, the grass whisking loud enough to be heard over the neutral hum of the air conditioner. Stan drove slowly, not risking a flat tire or broken axle, his eyes fixed on the road just ahead. After a minute, the road curved right, just as he remembered. Rain had gullied the road and Stan had to drive off the ruts, the wheels spinning of the gravel. He drove on and then stopped next to the oak tree, the tower of his childhood, now a stunted, hollowed stab into the sky, leafless, without magic.
Ignition off, Stan stepped out of the car into the cool dry air. The house that used to be there, where Mom smiled when the bus pulled up and where Dad mowed the lawn every other Saturday when it was warm, had collapsed. The upper bedrooms, where Kitty and Jeff and Stan dreamt their coming days, were gone, part of the debris where the kitchen and living room used to be. Only one wall remained, part of the laundry room, the wall where Mom kept a sewing table and Dad stored his Popular Mechanics. Just past that was the old tile floor of what was once Granna’s room, the room Dad built so that Mom could nurse Granna as only a daughter could. Stan squinted in the fading light as he remembered how Granna, then Dad and finally Mom had gone from cheerful to resigned to belligerent as the cancer took its sweet time to take one life and thus ruined five others.
For as soon as Granna died, just after Stan’s 11th birthday, Dad and Mom sat the three kids down and told them their life was changing. Dad had taken a job in Texas and was leaving in a couple of days… alone. The world stood still and rushed by, glared and became dark, and Stan could vividly remember Mom’s lone tear, the mirror image of Dad’s.
The next few days were a blur. Even after hours of conversations with Kitty, over cups of increasingly-exotic teas in decreasingly-adequate apartments and days of watching wrestling antics with a listless and aimless Jeff, none of them could recall very much except The Box.
It had been Granna’s, a teak-and-walnut chest made by an old boyfriend of hers who sailed the world between wars. She had given it to Kitty for “her girlie things,” but she had given it to Jeff to store baseball cards and Stan had won it in a game of marbles. On the last day at the house, before the move to the sterile subdivision, the frenzied new school, Mom’s first job and Dad’s guilt-ridden visits every two weeks, Stan suggested they each put something important in the box and they could bury it in the back yard. Kitty said it would be like an anchor to their home, like the anchor on the chest’s lid. So they searched quickly, opening boxes as Mom and the movers carted things out, the minutes draining with painful speed. Once The Box had the items, they rushed out and desperately picked a spot. They had no shovel, so they dug with their hands, shredding nails in the packed dirt. All three were crying, their sobs and tears an added rhythm to the effort. Mom called once, then again and when she called a third time, they patted the dirt down, wiped their faces as best they could and, surprisingly, hugged each other.
Sixteen years later, Stan looked over the once-pristine back yard. Dad had passed away first when a stroke claimed him. Mom followed just last month. The doctor called it a heart attack; Kitty said it was from a broken heart.
Just past the rise, Stan dug. The ground was softer now. He quickly found The Box and with a tear rising softly, he opened it. The ballerina slipper had faded, just as Kitty’s dream had. The tape recorder with Jeff narrating the World Series had corroded batteries, but the tape looked intact. And Stan’s woodcarving kit, his first art tools, were blobs of rust, but of the three items in The Box, his life was the only one that reflected that day long ago..
Stan smiled and wiped away the tear. The Box with the anchor—the anchor to home—was going to make a difference. He knew it.
And soon, so would Kitty and Jeff, who simply needed to remember.