...every girl treasures her music box.
|When I was eleven years old, my great Aunt died. We drove to Connecticut for the funeral. I didn’t understand what a funeral was, so I didn’t know I should be sad. Instead, I was jumping up and down with excitement because my father said we would be staying in a hotel. I did know what a hotel was because I loved the Eloise books. After the long drive, we arrived at the hotel.
It looked nothing like the hotel in my books. It was a two-story wooden-frame house with flaking white paint. It had a wide, red front door. On the front porch was a swing and a small table with two chairs. “Daddy,” I said. “this is somebody’s house. We are at the wrong place.” “No, Jen, this is the address,” he said. My father knocked on the front door. After a moment of waiting, he turned the knob. “Wait here.” he said, and entered the house. Mother and I went to sit on the porch swing. It seemed like father was gone forever, but, finally, he came outside. He handed mother a key with a large tag attached. “We are in room 219,” he said. “Top of the stairs to the left, at the end on the right. Go on up with Jen, and I’ll bring up our things. The man at the front desk said this place is haunted, but no refunds. What a goof!” We all laughed.
Mother and I went inside. Inside the house, it did look like a hotel. It had dark paneled walls, a deep red carpet, and lots of vases and busts and even a skinny black cat prowling the staircase. A scary looking old man sat, apparently asleep, at the front desk. His hair was all dull gray, except for one black stripe, right down the middle. “Let’s go, Jen,” mother said, and we went up the stairs to find our room. It was at the very end of the hallway. Last door on the right. Mother tried the key, but the lock must have been old. She jiggled and pushed and pulled the key. Finally, the knob turned, and we entered the room. The room was very bare compared to the foyer. There was a big bed for mom and dad and a sleeping couch for me. There was a single lamp, near the head of the bed. There was one very small window, with black curtains.
Father entered the room with our suitcases. “Weird place,” he said. “Let’s get unpacked and then we’ll eat. After dinner, we’ll go to the visitation for Aunt Sue.” I immediately searched for my music box. It was my greatest treasure. When you opened it, a small porcelain ballerina would pop up and do pirouettes as Swan Lake played, the tiny bells ringing distantly, like the bell tower of a church for mice. The music box was a gift from my grandfather, who was my favorite person in the whole world. “Always keep it near you, pumpkin. It will keep you safe,” he had told me. It did make me feel safe. I wound the box all the way up and sat it on the window sill. “Leave it closed for now, honey,” mother said. “We need to leave very soon.” A few minutes later, we left the hotel.
After the visitation, which seemed to last twenty hours, we came back. “Mommy,” I said. “May I play my music box?” “Jennifer, your mother has a splitting headache,” she said. “Can we just go to sleep, please?” I murmured my disappointment under my breath, brushed my teeth, looked at my special music box once more, and lay down to sleep.
Father woke me in the morning. “Jen. Jen. Jennifer, wake up. We’re late,” he said. He had already packed our suitcases. He picked me up and carried me from the room. “Hurry, dear,” mother said, as we descended the staircase. Father took us to the car, loaded our baggage, and ran back to the hotel. A few minutes later, he jumped in the front seat, started the car, and we left. He breathed heavily for a few minutes, I guess because of all the running.
It wasn’t until we were back home and I had searched all of our suitcases three times that I understood my music box was really gone. My father had left it sitting on the window sill. I cried and cried. It was strange, because I had not cried for poor Aunt Sue. I begged father to take us back. He said it was too far, and that he would buy me another music box. I yelled, “I don’t want another one! This was Pappy’s box!” It was the last gift grandfather had given me before his death, three years before.
Nine years later, Uncle died. By then, I had moved to Florida and started my career. I flew into Connecticut for the service. I had had little contact with Uncle Ed, but I was anxious to visit his town. I wanted to go back to the hotel. Of course, it was hopeless, but I felt compelled. I arrived at the hotel. It was abandoned. There was a notice on the door, indicating the building had been condemned. The red door was unlocked. I entered. It was clear vandals had destroyed the foyer. The stairs looked dusty, but safe enough for my small frame. I went up the stairs and left down the hallway, to the last door on the right. The door creaked loudly as I entered. There it was! My music box! It was sitting on the window sill, just as I had left it. It wasn’t even dusty! I cried with sudden, intense joy, as if releasing years of hidden pain. I lifted the lid, and the ballerina began her little dance, as Tchaikovsky played. Inside the box was a note. It was grandfather’s handwriting. Keep it near you. I kept it safe.