The lump in my throat grew bigger, forcing me to take deep lung-filling breaths each time I noticed I’d forgotten to inhale. The dramatic breathing, coupled with the free-flowing tears meant my husband kept his eyebrows raised for longer than usual when I kept saying “I’m fine, honestly, these are happy tears”. While he chose not to push the line of questioning and subtly left the room, the fact that he hovered around in the hallway, busying himself with clearing out the hot-press, did not go unnoticed. Allowing me enough space to process whatever information I had clearly happened upon, but not too much distance that he couldn’t be with me in seconds if I needed his support.
The shoebox didn’t look like something that could have such an impact on me, I thought I was immune to allowing my mother have any new space in my head. When friends told me that clearing out the house following her death would be a traumatic and emotional experience, I just smiled blankly while thoughts such as “Your mother must have been nicer to you than mine” ran through my head. Mothers and daughters are meant to be close, everything in society refers us back to that bond but we just weren’t like that. My mother was very matter of fact, not quite cold but not quite warm hearted either. I always felt like I was just another one of her students. An applicant to be processed, a box to be ticked. She never noticed me for me. Whatever precarious relationship we built and tottered on as adults, my childhood was far from the picture perfect version of cosy hugs, secrets shared over hot chocolate on the sofa and reassurance passed wordlessly with an understanding look.
So it was fair to say that the small ubiquitous shoebox had taken me by surprise, its contents knocked the wind from my sails and had my mind spinning. I found it in the bottom drawer of her bedside locker; somewhere I would never have dared access before now. Even the fact that it wasn’t stashed away in some forgotten, dusty place surprised me. Not only did the contents reveal new depths of emotion but the fact that she kept it so close to her touched me. My heart now felt under as much strain as my lungs.
Wordlessly, I lifted them one by one out of the box with shaking hands. I had expected to find legal documents or personal information relevant to her will and estate. I certainly hadn’t expected a window into my childhood to be contained in the little box. The wall behind me helped keep me steady as memories washed over me, threatening to flood me. My mother was an austere woman, not given to displays of affection or tolerant to childhood whims and fancies. I had forgotten all about them, I certainly never thought she did anything more than resign them to the bin. Indulgence in magical, mythical or mystical notion was not encouraged.
I hugged the small letters with their childish scrawl to me tightly. Crying now for a mother who was unable to show her small daughter the love she must have had inside her. Relatives often spoke in hushed tones of how my father’s early death had affected her, effectively shutting her down emotionally. Seven letter addressed to “Dear Santa” had been kept and treasured. The requests for specific gifts might not always have been acknowledged, but the fact that I was a child who hoped and believed was. That was discovery enough for me.
This story originally appeared as part of Christmas flash fiction series on She loves to read blog.