It’s just an apple box
…one of many currently piled in our overflowing garage. This one is empty, so it should be easy to get rid of: just toss it in the recycling pile and move on to the next item in the stack.
The last time we received an apple box in the mail was over 4 years ago. I don’t think we’ll get any more. That last apple box arrived shortly after my mother-in-law, Corky, died. It contained mementos from the home my husband’s parents occupied for decades: a naval uniform belonging to my father-in-law Bruce, some Santas and snowmen from Corky’s huge collection, a group of antique, beaded purses. There were a couple of dolls, a few bits of china and glassware, some family photos: familiar objects from years of celebrations and family gatherings, each infused with memories.
Corky always used a particular lusterware bowl for the holiday mashed potatoes. I can see her hands placing it on the table, filled with its steaming white mound. Well, except for the time, years and years ago, when my husband and I were so late we missed dinner. That time, the mashed potatoes she silently scooped into our plates fell with a leaden squelch. Cold mashed potatoes have an special eloquence.
Even more poignant than its contents, though, is the apple box itself. This apple box — or ones like it — punctuated my adult life.
Originally used by growers to convey their fruits to grocery stores, apple boxes are ideal shipping containers. Instead of the usual collapsible design with flaps (2 short, 2 long) for top and bottom, apple boxes are made in two parts: a lower 5-faced section (bottom and 4 sides) and a lid that is a fractionally larger version of the bottom. The lid extends the full height of the box. When closed, the apple box forms a veritable fortress of protection for the contents within.
When my in-laws sold their home in Maryland and moved to Florida (and, later, to California), they packed most of their belongings in these apple boxes, collected from area grocers by my husband’s father. An engineer by inclination as well as vocation, Bruce determined that these were the best containers for moving goods: strong and large enough to hold a a lot, yet not so large that they couldn’t be managed by one person (although an apple box full of books definitely requires a strong back). Furthermore, being of uniform size and shape, they stacked neatly and efficiently.
In the Bingham household (actually, in all of the Bingham households) apple boxes were never thrown away. When empty, they were stored in the garage until needed. And they were always needed. Some stored extra linens or holiday decorations or gift wap. Over the years, these boxes crisscrossed the country, bearing all kinds of goods. For instance, there was the canned mackerel. When my in-laws left Maryland, Bruce discovered that the specific brand of mackerel he preferred wasn’t sold in Florida or in California. So periodically we’d buy a few dozen cans (did I mention that he really liked mackerel?), pack them up, and ship them across country along with his favorite soup and other culinary necessities from the East Coast.
Mainly, though, the apple boxes were holiday boxes. On years when we were unable to be in California to celebrate with the family, our daughter would eagerly wait for these cardboard treasure chests to turn up on our doorstep. Usually we’d get at least four: from the parents and each of three brothers. And they were invariably heavy, since their contents ran the gamut from heavy tools to heavy books to heavy china.
Just as eagerly, we would wrap gifts for the family and pack and send our own apple boxes, carefully saved from the previous year. Packing them was a ritual that could take weeks, as we gathered carefully selected presents, lovingly wrapped them, and arranged them like so many knobby puzzle pieces in their cardboard carriers.
On years that we made the trip (most years), we would ship the boxes ahead of time, to sit in my in-laws’ garage until we arrived. Of course, there was the year one box accidentally ended up being thrown out with the presents still in it. We’d made the error of using a generic mailing container rather than an apple box, which never would have been discarded. Bruce’s failing eyesight would have allowed him to identify the apple box by shape alone but alas…
Some of the boxes have clocked more miles than a Presidential candidate during the final weeks of a campaign. The apple boxes are part of the framework of our family history. I look at them and I see my dark-haired daughter among her four blond cousins, extracting colorfully wrapped packages from travel-scarred containers, scattering crumpled newspaper for the dogs to play with.
The year we discovered Trader Joe’s, we shipped home 2 apple boxes of the treats we found there. Thank goodness they finally opened on the East Coast. Most years, we shipped back water-worn rocks lovingly gathered at Moonlight Beach (known to us simply as Rock Beach). Heavy. Good thing those apple boxes are strong.
In later years, the flow of apple boxes slowed. The one on our garage floor is likely the last one we’ll ever receive. It’s not the last one we’ll use, though. When our daughter went to college, many of her belongings traveled in apple boxes. Now that she’s on her own, they’ve been used to help her move into her own place. If she relocates outside of easy driving distance, we’ll use those apple boxes to send her packages. And when they finally disintegrate, we’ll head to the grocery store, with Bruce’s voice echoing in our heads, and we’ll get new ones.
So… Should I throw out this shabby, but still sturdy, apple box currently taking up needed space in my garage?
I’m not really asking.
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What a lovely lovely story. I can smell the apples and history, even from here in Australia.
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Thank you, Prue.
You’re a gifted storyteller Rebecca. I don’t have apple boxes, instead I have milk cartons.
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Thank you, Lori. I like the milk cartons!
As always, love reading your stories.
I also love the apple boxes and their history.
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Thank you, Margo. That makes me so happy.