A few items once contained in my treasure boxes:
- A key, dug from deep in the chalky soil of my primary school’s playing field and known secretly by my friend and I as The Key to Dream Land
- A stripy blue feather from the wing of a jay
- A glass bead (which I was convinced was a diamond)
- A white pencil with delicate flowers printed on it in fine multicoloured sparkle
- An indescribable jewel – even now I do not know what it was. I can only think it was made for a doll’s house and was supposed to represent a tiny tapestry (ca. 1 cm. across) under a glass dome.
- A tiny sliver of off-cut grey carpeting from when my primary school had its entrance hall recarpeted.
As you can tell, each item was priceless, and each item was all but valueless.
I’ve been thinking about what’s in all the other treasure boxes out there; the ones still being collected by children, the ones forgotten at the back of cupboards and drawers and the ones long scattered to the rubbish dumps of the world. I remembered a fictional treasure box in Ian Serraillier’s book The Silver Sword (AKA Escape from Warsaw). I can’t remember much of the contents of Jan’s treasure box apart from the silver sword (a paper knife) and three dead fleas from the chest of a chimpanzee he befriended – a perfect item for inclusion in a treasure box as it has the excellent qualities of having a strong association with a friend, being valueless to adults and also being repulsive to adults.
So why do we grow out of our treasure chests? Well I don’t think we do. An Englishman’s home may be his castle, but it is also his treasure box. As adults we have more wealth at our disposal to collect more valuable treasures. These days I am the proud owner of a diamond or two, not just a glass bead. We have computers and televisions, designer watches and shining cut glass. Instead of digging in the mud of the playground and picking things up off the floor we fight through the crowded aisles of the shops to discover our latest treasure, carrying it home in triumph. We have more space in the treasure box of our houses than we used to in a discarded cigar box or a ballerina musical box so we can have bigger collections of wonders.
But perhaps sometimes we could do with remembering childhood treasures. Joys worthless to others but precious to us. Often the most beautiful item in the shop loses its lustre when we bring it home in a way that my jay’s feather never did.
I found an unusual black and white spotted feather a few weeks ago. I gave it to a friend because I knew she would appreciate it. Her flat is her treasure box and it is closer to a children’s treasure box than most adults will ever understand. Some people would find my friend’s flat cluttered but I feel at home there because I know I have been invited into her special treasure box and I knew she was sharing her treasures with me.