I knew the box was there. I had not opened it in more than thirty years, but I remembered the color. It was red. What I didn’t remember was that it was in another box, and, of course, that box was at the bottom of the closet in my office. Out came the upright vacuum cleaner I never use, the box of computer gizmos and cords I’m afraid to throw out, the bags of yarn that I collect at resale shops for knitting Guidepost sweaters for kids, a bag of completed Guidepost sweaters that need to be sewn together, a box of my mother’s painting supplies that I might get to in another lifetime, and finally, the box that held the red box. A McGregors’ box, the size that shirts might have come in.
What I was looking for was a glimpse of myself the summer I was fifteen. We lived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee then and I babysat for neighbors, Charles and Julie Baes. It was at their house that I first read Peyton Place after I put their three children, Freddie, Linda and Sandy to bed. Julie Baes was from La Ceiba, Honduras. Charlie was a nerdy scientist, like my dad, and most of our neighbors in Oak Ridge. As I remember the story, Julie met Charlie in Miami. He didn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t speak English, but the chemistry was powerful and they married. By the time I knew them Julie’s English was just fine. That summer she was heading back to Honduras to spend three months with her family – who had never met the children. I was invited along as a mother’s helper.
What was in the red box were all the letters I’d sent home. Probably three or four a week. And a journal. I didn’t remember that. For years I have been wanting to read those letters and write about that trip. When I opened the red box I found other things inside. My passport from that trip. My high school diploma. A wedding picture of me with my first husband. Apparently as my mother downsized over the years, she put lot of Mala things in the red box. What was not there was a single picture of that trip except my passport photo. A Brownie box camera would not have fit in my one suitcase.
In retrospect, I am astounded that my parents let me go to Honduras. They put me on a plane in Knoxville and I traveled alone to Miami. I had never flown before. At the Miami Airport I managed to get myself and my luggage to a hotel where I had a reservation. The next morning I went back to the airport and met Julie and the children and we flew to Honduras together, landing first in British Honduras (now Belize) where the airport was a small building. I can’t remember if the runway was paved. I do seem to recall men with guns.
Julie’s family came from a town named La Ceiba; a small town with an unpaved center square tucked along miles of white sand beaches. More than fifty years later I imagine it is very different. I recognize nothing in the pictures on the internet.
At fifteen I was immersed in a culture very different from my waspy, midwestern upbringing. I don’t know if I had ever seen a person of color. I had completed one year of high school Spanish. By the end of three months in Honduras, I was dreaming in technicolor Spanish.
Now the red box sits in my office waiting for me to sort the letters by date and find the time to immerse myself in my past. I don’t know how many of us my age have a time in our young lives so well documented. The current young generation will have blogs and FaceBook and thousands upon thousands of digital photos. I think social media would have sacrificed some of the mystery I feel when I look at the red box.
I am looking forward to visiting my fifteen-year-old self.