A life in a box

I’ve been carting around a chaotic jumble of ribbons, string, paper, plastic and metal in a ratty old box for most of my adult life. Entirely useless yet absolutely essential, it sits in a closet waiting to be hauled out and dusted off whenever I feel like a wallow through the muddy ruts of memory lane. It’s way better than a photo album. It’s my life in a box.

A sampling:


Most have a story behind them, some of which I might even get around to one day.

ian-new-years-noisemaker-19681 New Year noisemaker, ca. 1968

ian-sugar-scoop-for-metalwork-class-grade-81 metal sugar scoop made in Grade 8 metalwork shop, 1972. I hated that class. The teacher was two metres tall and had a horrible temper he let loose with a booming voice. He once humiliated a classmate to tears by smashing his work flat with a sledgehammer.

molson-molstar-gold-ski-racing-pins-1978-794 gold Molson Mostar ski racing pins won at Whistler Mountain, BC. They were fun ski races. A ski instructor or patroller would weave through the gates, with his timing used as a benchmark for yours. If your timing was less than 10% slower than his, you got a gold pin.

ian-canadian-flag-sewn-on-backpack-19811 Canadian flag, made of cloth and sewn on backpack for trip to Europe and Middle East in 1980 – 81.

ian-hiking-shoes-1981-backpacking-trip1 square of leather cut away from the long-discarded boots I wore on that trip.

On the Pyramids at Giza, with sweaty socks:

1 Eurail Pass. Expiry sometime in September, 1980. After first validation two months before in Calais, France it became worthless in Lisbon. Not a good idea if you want to get to Greece.

melkweg-membership-pass-card-amsterdam-19811 Melkweg membership card, valid until Nov. 1, 1980 – from Amsterdam nightclub memorable for what I probably don’t remember of my only evening there.

t-shirt-moshav-neve-ativ-mount-hermon-ski-resort-northern-israel1 t-shirt remains from Mount Hermon ski area in the Golan Heights, Israel, where I worked as a first aid ski patroller in the winter of 1980 – 81.

elite-instant-coffee-can-israel-19811 can of Elite instant coffee, bought in Kiryat Shmona, Israel, 1981.

katyusha-rocket-nose-cone-kibbutz-kfar-giladi-hotel-may-19811 exploded nose cone cover of a Katyusha rocket which hit our Kibbutz in the north of Israel in Spring, 1981. Nothing much has changed.

shell-casing-boer-war1 shell casing from the Boer War, picked up by my maternal grandfather and passed on to me.

old-car-keysSpare keys to the only three cars I’ve ever owned. All bought used. The ’85 Honda Prelude was the best of the bunch.

skiing-canadian-ski-instructors-alliance-pin-level-21 Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance pin. Best and worst job I ever had. Low pay, deep tan.

via-rail-canada-uniform-buttons-lapel-last-spike-1990-pinVia Rail uniform buttons, lapel and a souvenir pin from definitely the worst job I ever had. I still refer to it as Vile Rail.

splicing-tape-and-razors-for-editing-radio-stories1 roll of splicing tape and razor blades for editing tape for radio reporting. I can’t believe it was only 15 years ago they were teaching this in journalism school. Now it’s all done digitally, of course. A bit of a loss, really.

montreal-forum-canadiens-hockey-press-pass-19931 photographer’s press pass to see Canadiens hockey games at the old Montreal Forum, 1993. Never got to go interview the players after the game, but free entry to Canada’s most revered hockey shrine was priceless.

toronto-blue-jays-baseball-cards-1992-championship-season-donruss1 deck of Donruss original 1992 Toronto Blue Jay Championship Season baseball cards, sealed. A press package gift. Is it worth anything?

montreal-expos-baseball-cards-25th-anniversary-collection1 deck of Donruss original Montreal Expos 25th Anniversary Edition baseball cards. Opened. Another goody-bagger for journalists. Please ignore the McDonald’s logo.

china-cultural-revolution-mao-little-red-book-beijing-19971 Little Red Book. Bought in Beijing, 1997.

china-mao-cultural-revolution-red-detachment-of-women-postcards1 book of postcards depicting glorious and commendable revolutionary dance drama theatrical production Red Detachment of Women flying the red flag.

hong-kong-one-cent-note1 Hong Kong cent note. Value: next to nothing.

hong-kong-press-club-bar-chitAbout 20 Hong Kong dollars worth of bar coupons to the Hong Kong Press Club.

various-id-cardsA slew of identification cards, including:

1 Vancouver Expo ’86 season’s pass. I swore I would never go to that circus, but ended up actually working there for a time.

1 University of British Columbia library card with some longhair who must have showed up for the picture sometime after 4:20pm.

1 Concordia University library card.

Not shown: 1 Whistler Mountain season’s pass. Price in 1978? $165. You might squeeze two days out of that much today.

1 Quebec driver’s license, expiry 1994. No photo required. Guaranteed to induce derisive laughter in California Highway Patrol cops.

1 Canadian Association of Journalists membership card

2 Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club buttons, Jan. 1, 1990 and 1995. Best hangover cure other than waiting 36 hours.

1 guest membership card to Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

2 Canadian National Railway pins

1 Queen Elizabeth silver jubilee medal. I really do love the queen. Honest.

1 Canadian Red Cross blood donor card, now useless. Because I lived in France in the early eighties, they think I might pass on Mad Cow Disease to recipients, so I am no longer allowed to donate blood in Canada.


See those coins in the sugar scoop? I used to collect coins, and so people gave them to me from time to time. I’ve got piles of them, hundreds from all over the world. I look at them and tell myself I should find out if any of them have value or at least put them in an album instead of having then crammed in the bottom of a box, but I’ve been dragging them around forever and never get down to doing it.

I will retire someday, though.


13 Responses to “A life in a box”

  1. April 24, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Way Cool!

    Thanks for the glimpse down your memory lane.

  2. April 24, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    What a great idea… I too have a box… & all of my patches from my Eurailing/backpacking days… I think I know what to do with them now…
    Super pictures!

  3. April 24, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    What a great collection! I have nothing like that, though your memorabilia brought back some of my memories of China and Israel–and of course I’m still in Canada. The Boer War! That’s interesting. As a kid we sang a marching song that made reference to the Boer War though I had no idea that was what it was, then.

  4. April 24, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    That was a very nice pictorial story. It’s a shame the Expos are gone. It’s MLBs loss.

    • April 25, 2009 at 6:44 am

      I’d forgotten the Expos were gone…it’s all about money these days anyway, right? The teams go where they can make the most.

      About Israel – hope to write some more about it when the time comes…

  5. April 25, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Fab post! I demand a pic of you in your ski instructor days though. And an initial touch of concern about the tape and razor blades, a bit seriel killer-ish. At least you had a good explanation.

  6. April 26, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    I’ve shed a good bit of such stuff through travel and hurricane prep, but even the process of keeping and throwing is interesting. And the power of these tiny things to evoke strong emotion continues to amaze.

    Decades ago, when a marriage ended,civility reigned supreme through the proceedings,including the division of “stuff”. Finally, the blowup came – a knock-down, drag-out fight. Was it over the house? A car? Investments? Custody of the dog? Nope. It was over a handful of New York City subway tokens. I don’t remember why they were so important, and today, I don’t even remember who got them. What I do remember is that they were so important neither of us was willing to accept a reasonable solution – division.

    Love the coins. My dad collected and when he died we were left with a literal ton of coins to deal with. An old chest freezer in the basement was full of them ; -)

  7. April 26, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    This has to be one of my favorite blog posts ever. There is something touching about the flotsam we collect, and the meaning to us behind it all. It’s also fun to see another’s life through what’s important.

  8. April 27, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    literaryhorse, that’s saying a lot – thank you!

    @linda (shoreacres) – a whole freezer chest worth? My brother took about 20 years to fill an old street lamp cover with pennies. It was about a foot and a half in diameter. I don’t know whether it was full to the brim when he finally rolled them all up, but he had 500 bucks worth just in pennies.

    I can understand the subway token brawl. Little things do mean a lot.

    @jeannine – I have a few photos from that time if you’re prepared to wait ’til it’s winter again and I post something a little more seasonal.🙂

  9. April 27, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Wow, what a wonderful trip down Ian’s memory lane. Thank you for sharing. I always know that when your name pops up in my blogroll that I am going to be treated to a smile… today was no exception.

    Oh, and the splicing tape and the talent required to work with it… well, let’s just say that I learned the art in university, but was VERY happy the day the radio station brought in the first digital editing equipment. Day to day editing was made MUCH easier I must say.

  10. April 28, 2009 at 2:34 am

    Hey, cool shit! I am zenish and throw stuff away, all I have is my memory, which unfortunately is failing me regularly!

  11. April 28, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    looking through someone else’s memory box is almost as good as sifting through my own. thanks Ian.

  12. 13 jabalong
    April 27, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Very nice post for all kinds of reasons, enjoyed reading it.

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The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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