At my house, even though I was rarely alone, privacy was respected. I had my own private wooden box, with a lock, where I kept my precious things. Nobody went into that box, even if I forgot to lock it. Deanna had a box, too, and she had a diary with a lock and key to put her private thoughts inside. I didn’t have a diary, I kept my private thoughts inside my head; but most of my private thoughts sorta spilled out my mouth anyway.
Dad said a man’s wallet and a woman’s purse was off-limits. Never, ever open those up, even with permission. I could understand that with a man’s wallet, ’cause the only thing in there was money, and if I was going in there without permission, I was either planning to steal something, which was a sin, or I was down right nosy, which was just as bad, maybe worse, it was way easier to get God’s forgiveness than people’s. Besides curiosity killed the cat, and that’s pretty tough, since cats have nine lives and always land on their feet. I saw lots of dead cats so maybe somebody made up the part about nine lives, but the landing part, I proved out with some real live barn cats, so I knew that part’s true. I even held a cat up by its feet just 6 inches from the ground, and she still landed on her feet. Nosy people get talked about people a lot and in a bad way, sometimes to their face and sometimes in round about ways. That’s way worse than stealing in my mind.
Purses seemed different than wallets, ’cause Mom had lots of stuff in her purse that was somewhere else too, and not private at all; like Kleenex and toothpicks, and band-aids, scissors, and a rosary for church, and sometimes even a little chapel hat just in case someone forgot to put their hat on or just decided out of the blue to go to church.
Never go into lady’s purse,” Dad said, “That’s her own private area. You wouldn’t look under a lady’s skirt, would you?”
“No,” I said. Dad caught me with my hands on the gold clasp of Mom’s purse; the one she crocheted with all the other ladies in the Extension Club out of a black cord that was way stiffer and thicker than any other stuff women used to crochet doilies, or potholders or hats. “I just want a Kleenex,” I said. “There’s nothing private about that.” I was trying to imagine how a lady’s purse was anything like looking up her dress, but I kept my mouth shut about that, ’cause I could see Dad was dead serious, and he hated to be reasoned with, even if I did have a good argument just tickling at the back of my throat trying to spill out of my head.
Once I read Deanna’s diary. Even though it she locked it, I pried the pages apart with a pencil and read some of the super interesting stuff she wrote about, like playing chicken with her friend Brenda, and who wore neato clothes to school, and how she wanted a can-can for Christmas. Okay, some of that stuff was sort of boring, but the part about playing chicken was good. That got my curiosity way up, so I just had to ask her if playing chicken scared her.
“How’d you find out about that?” Deanna said, and I could see she was getting her Irish up, ’cause her neck got all blotchy red and red was creeping out of her hair and all over her face.
“What difference does that make?” I said, ’cause I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t want to tell the truth either.
“You read my diary.” she shouted at me, shaking my diary in my face. “I know you did.”
“Well, it was laying out there on the bed, just begging to be read,” I knew that held about as much water as a sieve, and of course she had to tell Mom, which got us both in trouble, ’cause Mom asked a whole bunch more questions than I did. Maybe that’s where I learned to ask so many questions. It’s annoying when a kid asks a lot of questions, but when moms ask questions you better answer or else. That’s how both Deanna and I both got in trouble: me for being nosy and Deanna for playing chicken.
Dad showed me the special box his Dad, Grandpa C made for him. I never met because Grandpa C; he died when Deanna was one year old, and before I was born. Grandpa C made Dad’s treasure box out of wood, like the one Grandpa Z made me, but Dad’s was way smaller and painted green. His had a place for a lock, but Dad never locked it; he said you can trust family. Dad had a some pictures that smelled like an old bird’s nest from way back when he and his buddy Hal were in the Army. I had to take Dad’s word that it was him. I guessed faces change a lot when they get old and have kids. Anyways, I already felt bad enough that I got into Deanna’s diary, now I felt like a real heel, ’cause my trust was in question, even in my own family. That made me feel lower than low. I promised Deanna I would never, ever read her diary again, even if she left it out, even if she left it laying wide open on the bed and it was my turn to make the bed and I had to move her diary before I could. She could trust me and that was the honest truth.
I kept super precious stuff in my box: lenses that Grandpa Z gave me so I could look at insects up close; some iron ore that Grandpa Z gave me from up in iron country where he lived when he came over from the old country and he was just a kid; a letter from Mom when I was at 4-H camp for a week; and an old band-aid box that I kept my allowance and baby-sitting money in. I had my rosary in there, along with my first communion prayer-book, and some stationary Grandma C gave me with my name on it, only it was a different name, Delia, that maybe she thought I should have instead of my own name. Grandpa Z carved my name on my special box, but he spelled it wrong. That started me thinking maybe I was the one mixed up about my name, so I asked Mom. Whew! I remembered right. That’d be something, to forget my own name.
Some boundaries are meant to be respected with or without locks: diaries, desks, purses and wallets, and especially keepsake boxes for those things we treasure most. Sometimes those keepsake boxes hold much more than things. They hold something precious. Sometimes opening a keepsake box brings a flood of memories that string loosely together, like musty cobwebs in the corners of the box. In case you’re wondering, yes, I still have the lenses, I still have the letter from Mom. I gave the prayer-book and rosary to someone I love. And I do still have the memory of Dad sharing his own keepsake box with me and the lessons that went with it.