A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



Did you see the news story about the teacher who found an old cigar box in her attic? When she opened it, she saw that it was crammed full of old papers. She was about to toss it in the trash when she noticed the word "stock" on one of the papers. Upon further inspection, she discovered that the box was filled with old stock certificates. Just for fun, she had their value assessed.

You guessed it: instant millionaire.

"I don't imagine my life will be all that much different," she said after banking her new-found fortune. "I may buy some new clothes. But other than that, I won't be making many changes."

Personally, I think wealth is wasted on such people. What's the point of being suddenly prosperous if you're not going to allow yourself to suddenly . . . you know . . . prosper?

I know I would. I know this because I've been thinking about it all week -- or at least since my dad's wife, Jean, called to tell me about a box she found while doing some early spring cleaning.

"There are some real treasures in these boxes," she said. "You ought to have them."

"Treasures?" I asked. "What sort of treasures?"

"Oh, you know -- jewelry, certificates, a little money, and there are some metals that are absolutely precious."

Jewelry? Certificates? Money? Precious metals? And she wants to give them to me?


Unlike the teacher in the news story, I could come up with plenty of ideas for improving my life once those treasures made their way into my bank account. Most involved quitting my job and buying a Winnebago. By the time I got the box from Jean, I had already imagined myself back and forth across the country and all the way to Hawaii (with and without the Winnebago, respectively).

In the privacy of my car, I carefully opened the black jewelry box. Inside, it was just as she had promised: jewelry, certificates, money and precious metals. Only the jewelry was costume jewelry in brilliant blues, reds and aquamarines. The certificates included my mother's high school diploma. The money was an English penny. And the precious "metals" were actually precious medals, including one awarded to my great-grandfather for being an "Indian War Veteran" and another presented to my great-great-grandfather for helping to pioneer the American West.

OK, I'll admit it: I was disappointed at first. There was nothing of any value here -- unless you counted sentimental value. But the more I studied the stuff in the box, the more like a treasure it seemed to be. And the more like a mystery. What did my great-grandmother's garish red rhinestone broach tell me about the personality of a woman I never met? Am I the only one in the family who will be surprised to learn that Mom graduated from high school in Denver? Who wore the dangly blue pendant and why did it smell -- vaguely but distinctively -- of turpentine? And what about the cool reading spectacles? What was the deal with those?

I'm not exactly sure where to look for the answers to these questions. But we're going to have a lot of fun trying to find them. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying this wonderful sense of connection as I handle and admire objects that were obviously cherished by my ancestors. It makes me feel grounded. It makes me feel like I belong. It makes me feel like I'm part of something that extends beyond the here and now. And that feeling is something I value and treasure.

Regardless of the value of the treasure in the box.


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--- (c) Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and