Monthly Archives: April 2013

Packing up the Universe

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford Topsfield Middleton —
I don’t want to alarm you, but it’s possible that by the end of this column, a hole in the space time continuum may open up and suck us in.  Further, the hole is located in Baltimore in a neighborhood that is, umm, not up and coming.  But it’s perfectly safe because it’s where my grandparent’s house is, and has been, for 72 years. 
Technically their row home (these days it’s called a condo which is just silly) is on the very eastern side of Greektown.  As a child, I could walk out and hear the moms calling their kids in Greek over the din of busses and ice cream trucks and the nearby shipping yard — all thrilling to my young suburban self. 
But the exotic cityscape was no match for the inside of my grandparent’s home, which contains . . . everything.  The bizarre and wonderful things you might find is breathtaking. Nooks and crannies spontaneously come into existence just to contain items in their house.
As I type, I am flying home from a day spent helping to get the home ready for sale.  My grandparents, aged 93 and 92, have decided to permanently move to Miami.    But packing their house?  Digging into the deep corners?  I can’t help but worry.  Like in so many stories where ordinary objects take on powerful properties that keep the universe balanced, their row home or an item within it, may be what’s keeping the very fabric of space and time in check.
It could be anything. Today while standing in one room, I was surrounded by boxes labeled with things like: ‘silver rings – small’, ‘hand painted Ukrainian eggs’, ‘pompom maker’, ‘Looms – a variety’, ‘brushes and glitter’, ‘amethyst chips’, and, ‘shell – rabbit’. 
“Grandma,” I asked, “what’s in the box labeled, ‘shell – rabbit’!?”
My grandmother looked at me like I hadn’t a single brain cell. “Well it’s a rabbit made out of shells!”

She grabbed the box, causing a trickle of other items to come down, (fortunately I was wearing my Grandfather’s hard hat from his supervisor days at the Esso refinery) and pulled out . . . a rabbit . . . made from shells. Two mussel shells formed the ears. 
Maybe the Shell Rabbit was holding our world together. Or perhaps the Stradivarius Violin was. That’s right.  An old violin, with the authentic mark, and a 1723 date . . . “Oh that,” my Grandmother said.  “Well your grandfather’s father brought it over from Germany.”
Uh huh. It’s probably a copy, but what if it’s not?
The house is a wonder land on three floors, or at least two.  The basement is at the bottom of a dark and dangerous stair case leading to a darker room.  But staying safely at the lit end, we found half a dozen antique cameras, a World War II bayonet, a self-diagnostic medical home shocking device for all your electro-therapy needs, endless vintage tools and every family’s standard bag of hollowed out conch shells with plastic turkeys attached to them … because you just never know.
Lest you think they sound like hoarders, I assure you, these items can all be used for something. I spent my life opening presents (always wrapped in newspaper) and finding that the toilet paper roll I might have foolishly thrown away was now the base of a doll.  The old nylons I thought were gross, could be turned into a braided outdoor rug.  Cherry pits became necklaces, milk pods turned into angel wings and plastic bags could be crocheted into colorful purses.
My grandparent’s talents with stained glass, sewing, model making and all around teaching have benefited and delighted generations of families.  They’ve supported the community for seven decades from their home.   And today we started packing it.  If you suddenly smell Greek food wafting on the air or find yourself staring at a box full of vintage velveeta cheese crates or depression era glass . . . well, I’m sorry. 
I can’t promise that the center will hold when we finally close their door.