Many people look at a box and presumably think of the contents inside of it. The outside is usually ignored unless there is some significant feature on its exterior. Looking at what holds the content rather than the content itself is just as important. It’s almost like a first impression, you meet a person but only their exterior it takes time to really understand who they are inside. Even though this box had the simplicity of any ordinary cigar box, it took me time to understand the relation between what was inside and out.
The old cigar box, made of stained maple wood, with two golden handles that rested on its side, reminds me instantly of when my grandfather use to carry it. He would never use the handles causing them to make a high pitch jingle every time they collided with the wooden wall that supported them. I thought it was an interesting piece of work not having ever seen it up close before. The top has a diamond trimming embedded in it that draws the eye straight to the key whole. Once opened there is a gold and black thermometer surrounded by two filters that allows you to keep your cigars at a safe temperature while keeping the smell inside the box. There was also a thin wooden tray inside that had incisions made to place more cigars that covered the inside of the box. There was a slot to insert a cigar butt cutter and a handle you could slide side to side to prevent cigars from shaking inside the box. The box itself was a beautiful work of craftsmanship. Upon receiving the box I had no clue what to do with this giant hallow piece of wood.
Losing the Best
I am the youngest in my family, or what everybody calls the “baby of the house.” I was given the title by my grandfather who at this point had given just about everybody in my family a nickname. My mother was called “Rose” short for Rosalie, my middle brother Jeremy was called “Henry” after his father, and my oldest brother “Jon” short for Jonathan. My grandfather’s name was Ernesto but we called him “Ernie.” He was a businessman always dressed in his grey or black fancy suits topped with a round hat. He sold cars for a living, not just for a specific company, but for a lot filled with an array of different cars from Mustangs to the Chevell SS. He had been working at a dealership called Trust Auto Sales for about 15 years. Due to his years of experience he was an amazing story teller. This is the reason why my brothers and I would love listening to him talk. He would also do a lot of extracurricular activities with us. We would go eat, go play at a park, go fishing, and just about anything that would get us out of the house.
Sadly my grandmother passed away before I was born in 1992 due to the severity of her breast cancer, but my grandpa would always speak of her. He told us about their 17 year anniversary at which my grandma gave him the box. He would always laugh thinking it was a funny gift considering that he didn’t smoke, but she did. Despite losing the love of his life I could still remember the calmness in his eyes and soothing smile he tried to hide every time he opened the cigar box. He would occasionally wipe it down, and reorganize everything inside it. Even though I watched him clean it year by year I never really knew what was inside it. I just saw a lot of papers and little nick-nacks he decided to keep. Some of them metal and some of them paper. One of the things I remember most was always seeing stamps. He would always show different types of stamps. He had an array of stamps from 10 cent stamps to stamps that dated back to the 1990s.
My grandfather was later diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and although he was a great salesman he was also a sugar fanatic. After his diagnosis my mom became the anti-sugar captain. Anytime she saw Ernie with sugar or anything sugar related into the trash it’d go. He used to sneak apple pie by telling my mom he was taking me out to eat. We would go to McDonalds and he would order at least a couple apple pies as he watched me have fun in the play pen. I knew whenever I could smell the sweet aroma of warm cinnamon and apples, my grandfather was near. However all those pies he had eaten had finally caught up to him. He began to accumulate low blood pressure that led to bad circulation is his leg. Due to that reason he later had his left leg amputated. After his amputation our physical relationship came to a halt. Because of his removed limb we would hardly go out, or do any of the memorable things we used to. However, emotionally we were still the best of buds. We would always talk and I could never get tired of his stories.
Later on July 10, 2002 my grandfather passed away at 75. It was one of the hardest things for me to deal with as a child. At two in the morning the ambulance came to pick him up and I could hear everyone frantically saying all types of things. He was the father figure I had in my life and was the person I aspired to be.
Understanding a Little Better
When I first opened the box what I found was pretty interesting. I found letters that my grandma and grandpa had sent each other, pins from clubs he was involved in, two Hotwheels dated at 1995, more stamps and a bunch of little nick-nacks, photos of our family, and the butt of the only cigar my grandfather had ever smoked. It was pretty cool looking at all these little memories my grandmother and grandfather shared, but what was more emotionally striking to me was my grandfather had made sure he kept them. As I grew older I would occasionally look through the box, but mostly saw it as just the memorable love my grandparents shared.
In their letters they would talk about how much they loved and cared for each other. Some would even go back to when they had just started dating and wanted to meet each other’s family. It was heartwarming to see how my heritage began and how these two individuals would talk to each other. My grandmother was always more emotional than my grandfather. He would always try to keep his masculinity up and be careful with how he expressed his emotions. However some letters didn’t make sense talking about how they missed each other and were so far about.
One day I asked my mom what the stamps on the back were for. She had told me they were stamps from my grandmother when my grandfather would travel with his family. She explained that my grandfather used to love traveling and went to places like Spain, Italy, Costa Rica, and Mexico. However my grandma was the complete opposite and despised traveling. That explained a lot to me such as why in the letters they talk about missing each other, and speak of normal daily activities. This just fueled my fire to curiosity so I decided to look up information on the box itself.
Cigar Boxes and Where They Come From
According to the EHow and Stringtickers website here are some facts on the cigar box:
· Do to the United States Revenue Act of 1864 cigar packaging into boxes was made a legal requirement
· Majority of cigar boxes are made of “Standard Nailed Wood” which is a design that has six pieces of wood nailed to each other.
· In 1870 a law was passed allowing the use of tin a legal material for the creation of boxes.
· During the late 1800s and early 1900s cigar box art or “tramp art,” was very popular, with artist making pieces such as furniture and frames out of cigar boxes.
· During the Great Depression the cigar box was also made into a musical instrument relatively the same as the guitar.
The cigar box has a lot of history in American culture but it is used in many different ways. The use of just a box could vary depending on the creative mind that owns it. I now understand a little but more on how just important a “box” can be.
Just as My Grandfather Did I Will as Well
The box I now own is not just any ordinary box. It is the physical memorabilia of my family. Every item inside and outsider physically represents a moment that my grandfather sought as important to him. Although I may have never met my grandmother, I can still gather these pieces and get a little taste of who she is. In addition even though the most influential man I know is above the heavens I still have a piece of him with me always. Just as my grandfather did, I will as well. I have covered the box with stickers of my own that represent me as an individual. I also have added a couple of things inside the box that were important to me as well. I can now see why my grandfather would smile even before he opened the box. He taught me a lesson without physically doing anything. Nobody or anything can really die, not unless you let it.
Justin Maciel is a student at California State University Northridge that enjoys socializing and meeting new people.