Little Tokens: The Matchbox

The matchbox is solid in hand, made of metal, and cool to the touch. There are bits missing from the enamel inlay, like someone kept the matchbox in their purse, knocking around with their keys, little turquoise crumbs disappearing to mingle with the lint and crumbs. A boy gave the matchbox to my sister, and eventually, she gave it to me. Gifting was common in the economy of our sisterhood. I can’t remember how old I was, or where we were when this matchbox passed ownership. I remember feeling surprised, and lucky that I was in possession of such a beautiful object. The muted colors, the delicate metal of the cloissoné, the tea-stained paper cardboard drawer, where the matches would go. It was old, and beautiful, and special—all things I longed for as a child growing up in a place where everything felt cookie-cutter and commonplace.

There are no matches in the box anymore. Instead, there’s an old bracelet, strung with plastic beads, the leather cord severed. I often forget that this is there, and yet just seeing it tugs at me. It’s a much older relic of our sister-friendship. Ate* made it at a church summer  camp, I think, and gave it to me one afternoon when she got home. My four-year-old self’s favorite bead was the mauve butterfly that also served to tighten the bracelet around my wrist. The bracelet made me think of Ate; it made me feel safe and loved.

I never took off the bracelet—at least, not until the cord broke. As a child, I was devoted to Ate. I loved to sit in her room and look at the beautiful and fascinating things on her shelves: a wooden jewelry box, a graceful statue of Bastet, a to-scale model of an X-wing starfighter. Even better were her sketchbooks. The pages were thick and warped with ink and paint, paper scraps and tape. I think my favorite art always reminds me of those pieces.

This bracelet-in-a-matchbox is a tiny reliquary, for my sister and me.

*Pronounced “AH-tay.” A title given to older sisters in Filipino families.


About four years, I moved cross-country, only bringing with me what I could fit in half of my car (the other half was reserved for my road trip companion, but that’s a story for another time). It was difficult leaving behind things that were meaningful to me, so I compromised with myself and decided to bring a small collection of things smaller than my palm as tokens to remind me of what I was leaving behind. This series is about those tokens. 

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