cigarboxThe potential of a box is infinite. Though confined to the square of its walls, the possibility of its inventory is limited only by the imagination. Pandora had one she shouldn’t have opened, but who can blame her? On Christmas morning it is the box, wrapped in festive paper, that holds promise. The excitement comes from opening and discovering the contents. Somehow, the joy of the thing is all tied up into that first moment of revelation. It is that brief time before opening that holds the greatest satisfaction, the box itself offering the gift, the contents a metaphor for the potential felt a moment before.

The box, an empty vessel containing nothing but the under cloak of a six sided container can be the gift. Plain or ornate, wood, metal or leather holding within their chambers our treasures, keepsakes or precious letters professing loves both here and gone.

The bone of animals who grazed fields worlds away and died at the hands of nomads wondering those lands become the keepers of our secrets. Hands painstakingly carved, tamed and crafted the whitewashed skeleton into boxes. The soul of the beast held together by these bones becomes the soul of the box.

box stackThere are magic boxes with hidden locks, known only to the owner. And there are the boxes of our childhood; these too held magic. A cigar box where special things were kept: baseball cards, keys whose locks are long forgotten, a broken penknife, a father’s discarded wallet. Magic.

A box showed up at the very first Christmas and every Christmas since. Frankincense and myrrh may have come in bottles, but I’m pretty sure the gold arrived in a box, at least if the props in our kindergarten nativity play were accurate.

One Christmas when I was a child, I tore the wrapping off my gift, and without opening it to find the contents exclaimed: “A box, I got a box!” My parents like to retell that story every Christmas. I was so excited about the box that I didn’t care what was inside.

A locked box is a mystery waiting for discovery. Curiosity blossoms when confronted with this and a child’s temptation is tested when the key is carelessly left, with coins for companions, on the top of a parent’s dresser

3969epbiscuit2Precious jewels are held in boxes, important papers, evidence of our birth, our vows, the achievements of our youth. A box, empty, waits for us. We decide what goes in. Boxes contain our history, the things that help us remember ourselves. We open the box carefully and handle with great care the contents, they are the talisman of our dreams.

Eventually, it is our bodies that are remaindered to a box. Perhaps we always sense this. That is the connection we feel with these boxes. We know, in the end, we do not hold the box, the box holds us.

I bought my wife a box for Christmas. White, with intricate carvings, it is beautiful. I asked the clerk its origin. “Bone” she said, “from Tibet.” “Bone of what?” I asked. One must be careful about these things. “Animal,” then sensing my concern: “An animal that died of natural causes. Yak. Free range. A free range yak.” I suspect this story but cannot resist. SOLD. One box made from the bone of a free range yak who died of natural causes after a long, happy yak life.

My wife is unwrapping her box now. The space inside it is dark, but she brings light when she lifts the lid. Choose carefully what you place inside dear, it is empty now and waiting for your dreams.


A version of this story first appeared in the AJC. It is dedicated to my wife, Laurie, who like a box, contains within her all the treasures I hold dear.





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Billy Howard

Billy Howard

Billy Howard is a commercial and documentary photographer with an emphasis on education and global health.

15 Comments
  1. Billy Howard — I remember this story from several Christmases ago. I have several small boxes. Each one of them evokes memories that refuse to die: a wooden puzzle box with secret compartments (Japan); a brass tea caddy (a friend’s Thai sojourn in the late 60s); a tin box of toy mice and catnip (feline presents); an enamel cigarette box that now stores jewelry. Thank you for reminding us they hold our dreams.

  2. A camera used to be contained in a box. Not only can you take pictures but you can write beautifully too. Billy, a renaissance man, Yak! Well done, and you and Laurie have a wonderful holiday season.

  3. P.S. Hi “Marietta Mary”. You have a wonderful holiday season too.

  4. Terri Evans

    Just lovely. Just like your wife. A lucky yak it is to spend its afterlife holding Laurie’s dreams.

  5. Outside the box. Billy, I always love your telling of this story of The Box. You have a gift [with words]. And your friendship is a gift, though most definitely not contained to a mere box.

  6. Free-Range Billy, you’ve done it again. Lovely.

  7. Billy: This is such a thoughtful, touching story, seasoned with your trademark sense of humor. A free-range yak, indeed. You’re one of a kind, Billy Bob. May you and Laurie have a wonderful Christmas in your new home.

  8. Once again, your insight, talent and unparalleled viewpoint inspire. I’m so glad you’re my friend, at Christmastime and all the time.

  9. Billy,

    You and Laurie never cease to amaze me with the scope of your talent and with the generosity with which you share it. The Box is a beautiful story that I look forward to sharing with my family.

  10. Cliff Green

    Billy: As you know, I’ve always liked Laurie better. Having said that, you are a wonderful talent and the two of you make a fabulous pair. Happy Holidays!

  11. And I thought I was the only one who loved boxes. I have more than I can count off the top of my head, two of which were my great grandmothers, intact the way she left them. I am currently working on photographing the contents of them.

    Thanks for this great story…this is so beautifully written!

  12. You are indeed quite the rascally romantic and that’s what we love and miss about the South… and not seeing you and Laurie.

  13. There isn’t much under our christmas tree. I think I’ll place a favorite box there. Thank you for the story. Storytelling is an art.

  14. What a lovely piece–humorous, thoughtful, and moving!

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