Monday, October 13, 2014

Grandma’s Powder Box

My grandfather died when I was twenty-six months old, yet I retain vivid memories of him. Perhaps it’s because he spent nearly every moment of the time he was at home with me.

When I was born, we lived in the ‘little house,’ a two-room structure behind my grandparents’ ‘big house.’ My grandfather built the original single room for his father. Later on, he and my dad added the bright, sunny kitchen, half bath (toilet and sink—no tub or shower), and walk-in closet.)

The main room, or living room, featured a Murphy bed, which dropped down from the back wall. To the left of the bed, a door led to the tiny half bath. (My parents had to shower or bathe in the ‘big house.’) A door to the right led to a large closet. When my parents added a sofa, dresser, and my crib, the space felt cramped.

However, the bright yellow kitchen with its large window, eating area, and all the appliances was about the same amount of area as the living space.

When my cousin, David, was born, everyone expected Grandpa to be over the moon. After all, he had three daughters. This was the first boy in the family, and he was named for his grandfather. However, when I came along a year later, Grandpa jumped for joy. He knew how to raise girls, and I practically lived in the same house.

Grandpa was the men’s clothing buyer for the Broadway Department Store in downtown Los Angeles. (My dad worked in the same store.) Each night when he arrived, Grandpa rapped on the kitchen window to let Grandma know he was home. Then he headed straight for the ‘little house’ and me.

He held me, rocked me, read to me, and most of all, talked to me. Often his evening visits ended with a tour of the big house. Grandpa pointed to each object (picture, table, chair, bed, etc.) and named it. Before long, I attempted to imitate him.

When I was a year old, my mother listed all fifty-two of my words in my baby book because she figured people would never believe my vocabulary.

These tours always ended in my grandparents’ bedroom at Grandma’s dresser. At the center was her powder box. It had been a gift from Grandpa.

When he lifted the lid, the scent of Coty face powder and the tinkling sound of “The Desert Song” filled the room. The storage space in the base held the pale pink powder and cotton ball Grandma used to apply it each day.

Then came the magic. Grandpa replaced the top, and the music stopped. As I grew older, he allowed me to lift the lid, but when I replaced it, the music continued. He repeated the process. Each time he replaced the lid, the music ceased, but when I did the same, the music continued. I found it very confusing.

Sometime later, I finally noticed the tiny wire, which controlled the music box action, and realized the music stopped when the lid pushed the wire down. However, by then, Grandpa was gone.

Years later Grandma died when we were on the road to Illinois. We went for work and were to relocate for a year. The day we got there, we phoned my mother to let her know we’d arrived safely. She told us she had just returned from my grandmother’s funeral.

“Do you want me to save anything of hers for you?”

I replied without hesitation, “Grandma’s music box.”

When we returned to California a year later, Mom gave it to me. It occupied a place of honor in my home for a long time.

However, a few years ago, I decided it should stay in my mother’s family, I gave it to my cousin’s daughter. She already had two girls and valued family and history as I did. I promised I’d write the story of the powder box for her, so I’m finally doing it here.

Whenever I hear “The Desert Song” or smell the scent of Coty face powder, the memory of both of my grandparents immediately comes to mind.

The scent of freshly cut pine brings back the memory of visiting lumberyards with Grandpa. He took me everywhere with him, and since he was a talented carpenter, visits to hardware stores were common. They remain among my favorite haunts.

Even though I only had Grandpa in my life for just over two years, he gave me nothing but pure unconditional love. In fact, his final words were, “Take good care of my Lorna.” The idea that his final thoughts were of me gives me great joy.

He taught me about the pleasure of words, which may have contributed to my interest in writing. He was a semi-professional singer, which might account for my love of music. I owe him a great deal.

So the little music box meant far more to me than just another family trinket. It holds precious memories of the people from whom I descend.

Do you have any special family treasures which hold similar memories and evoke warm feelings?

Kimberly, Kaleth, and Briley, this blog is for you.


  1. What a beautiful story, Lorna. The powder box is also a lovely treasure to behold. Having been super close to my own grandfather Taylor, I understand that love. Luckily, I had mine until my kids were old enough to remember him.

    1. Thanks, Jackie. it still amazes me how much of an influence he had on my life.

  2. My mother wore Chantilly dusting powder. It was a go to gift for Mother's Day. I keep a box in my closet; occasionally I open it, close my eyes and smell. It is a special reminder of our mom.

    1. Isn't it amazing how powerful a scent can be in bringing back memories? :)

  3. I sure do, and dabbing tears. Lovely post.

    1. Hope you enjoyed your memories. I did mine. :0

  4. Lovely post. It would make a great short story.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Janet. You have my permission to use it as inspiration. :)