The Shadow Box

Some pieces of the past come together. She liked to play cowboy games. “Look what we won at the carnival,” they said. Something glittered in the dirt. She dug out a piece. She thought it had something to do with a gun. She kept quiet about her discovery. She placed it in a little treasure box in her room. All the children knew it was a tiny object. It was so mysterious she carried it in her wallet. Five years after falling in love she visited her cousins in the city. No one knew what fighting had occurred there. She lived on a farm. She began having visions. “There’s a wounded soldier standing there, just below the sharp peaks of the mountains. He loves to hunt and fish in the forests and streams. He worked in the hay and the wheat fields. He was always good to me.” But he had a stubborn streak and a temper. At times his anger flared. He had a rocky relationship with his father. He would lash out. “You always salute the flag,” he said. He worried about the brewing conflict. Tens of thousands of soldiers were taken captive or died along the way, which was made famous in films and books. It was a vicious camp where Americans were starved, tortured or beheaded. Her mother and dad both cried. This time the news was much worse. She ran out to the kitchen to get a glass of water. What horrors their brother endured will be never known. Or where he is buried. She tried to imagine for half a century who he was. High in the mountains – did he die there? She lived with her father until his death. The idea sounded too vague for her.

She let it languish. She didn’t want him to be lost to time. In the midst of war he found love. It was the family’s only link. She uncovered pieces of the puzzle. He returned with a broken heart. He died a few years ago. “We haven’t much of a family tie in our heritage picture. I have always wanted to know our grandfather. It’s very profound to me to have found out.” She didn’t have much to give them. She placed it in a small white box. “It is a blessing I have finally found. I am sure he would have wanted it that way. I’m going to miss it.” He turned it over and over in his hands. In a land across an ocean a long time ago, you just get a kind of empty feeling in your stomach. It will hang on the wall in a shadow box.

— from the Austin American-Statesman, 11/12/06, p. J1