The Life Box


Josiah awoke the following day at dusk.  Hardly anyone under the canopy was up except his grandmother.  He could see movement through the curtained windows of her motor home.  It took her a long time to get up and dressed, but Elli insisted on doing it without help.  She liked her evenings alone and said she was neither fit nor civil company until after toast and tea.  Josiah would not bother her before.  He would just sit under her front awning until she turned on the door light.


Josiah looked out at the compound.  Eight duplexes, one stucco single family home, Luke's garage, the powerhouse and Rosinante sat on about 7 acres between the river and the street.  A light white fabric covered the entirety and diffused the afternoon sun to a fuzzy glow.  Josiah had never seen the Maple trees that grew here when Elli was a girl, but he was quite familiar with the more tropical growth that had replaced them.  Trees lined the riverbank.  A well-groomed vegetable garden filled the entire area between there and the doorsteps of the houses.


Josiah loved his grandmother’s stories.  She had found a wooden chest in the attic of the farm back in the 2060’s.  It was packed with antiquities and reminiscences of Ellie’s grandfather David.  There was an ancient instrument, a mandolin, which Josiah’s father Jake had learned to play after Ellie found it in the chest.  There were scratchy old tapes of ancient music which Ellie played for Joe on an antique device which David had left in the box for just that purpose.  Joe and his father had read the faded document explaining the history and lyrics of each song.  It was written in funny old language using words like “well” for “good” and “records” for “memory chips.”


 There were also discs which played on a computer, and which Joe had to listen to by ear. The old computer David had left in the box had no transmitters to play through an implant.  It had a keyboard instead of implant receivers for input.  Joe could work the keyboard, but the crude programs used to control the input and the little device called a “mouse” confounded him.  His grandmother was good at it because she remembered such devices from when she was a girl.


There was mail written by hand and news articles printed on paper with ink.  There was even a printed history of the power company that David started in 1980.  It included details of his first rebuild of the turbine and generator that powered the compound.


Suddenly Joe realized that his grandmother’s porch light was on.  She had finished her breakfast.  She had promised to read him the story of how these things came to be in the chest.  Joe went in.  Ellie got out the old computer with its strange keyboard and read him a story which David had titled “The Life Box”      










The Life Box

The idea started out in a discussion with my brother one evening back when we were both still drinking.  We had found out that it was still legal to bury one's kin on one's own property with a valid death certificate.  I had a very nice old carpenter's tool chest which I proposed Pete use as a coffin for my interment should I predecease him.  With the help of a bottle of Jack in a brown paper bag, we scouted the back forty for an appropriate site.  We found it under the shade of an old apple tree on the hillside overlooking the house.  Sitting there on the stone wall in the sun with the buzz of bees and the smell of juniper we finished the Jack.  Quite satisfied with our afternoon's accomplishment, we stumbled back to the house to commit our mutual burial plans to writing.      

  The carpenter's chest sat in the corner of the keeping room.  We affixed our signatures to the two handwritten agreements, folded the yellow lined papers and put them in our respective wallets.  Pete hesitated, a puzzled look on his face.

"What's up?" I asked. 

He looked at the box, then back at me, then back at the box.

"I don't think you'll fit"

"No problem.  You can take the drawer out of the top." 

"I don't mean that way," he said closing one eye and looking back at the box.  "I mean, you're six feet tall and that box isn't five feet long."

"Well, just fold me up." 

"But what if I don't find you right away and you've already got rigor mortise?  I'll have to cut you off at the knees."

"No problem.  There's a saw in the box." 

Upon more sober reflection, I have revised my plan for my carpenter's box. On my return from travel in Central America, I smoked a Camel and put it in a Hellman's mayonnaise jar which I placed in the chest with the following items: 

Instructions for Pete to put my cremated remains in the mayonnaise jar.

Every letter (over 200 from my mother) that I ever received from the time I first left home at 12 until the advent of email in the 1980's.  Some, from young ladies in the 1950's, still smell of perfume. 

A somewhat incomplete collection of newspaper articles and other memorabilia, most having to do with my travels in my Model "A" Ford.

My first mandolin, a 1918 Gibson "A" that Doug Banks found for $100 when we were in college. 

Selected tapes and CD's of my music with friends and various bands, along with a tape player and CD player in case the technology becomes obsolete.  

A copy of my master's thesis with my collection of street singers recorded in the mid 1960's.  This preserved both on CD and in wave files. 

Chris and my registry of deeds research on the history of the farm including letters from Noah Beech to his brother about the addition of the second floor in 1803.

The Ware River Power corporate history with detailed accounts of hydro sites rehabbed and historical exhibits completed by the company. 

The log and photo album from the time spent in the Bahamas with my kids on the Flying Eagle.

A CD that starts out, "This chest contains the significant effects from the life of David William Wright.  You will find my material remains in the Mayonnaise jar with the Camel cigarette butt.  These two items will have most certainly contributed to the termination of a joyous life..."