Memory in a Box

That’s the thing with handmade items. They still have the person’s mark on them, and when you hold them, you feel less alone.    Aimee Bender

December’s gifts – custom, ceremony, celebration, consecration – come to us wrapped up, not in tissue and ribbons, but in cherished memories.    Sarah Ban Breathnach


As the Christmas storage boxes are brought down from the attic and holiday décor is unpacked, memories are honored. The sight of a certain ornament suddenly awakens a story in my heart that until that moment has been quiet and tucked away. A pause happens in the decorating as I give full attention to following the threads of that memory, extending it as far back as I can remember.  Sometimes the story is foggy or missing information.  This prompts writing a family member or friend to help me recall the details. Such was the case in the memory that jumped out of this year’s holiday box.


A very small angel on a pedestal, perhaps two inches high, still in the square box from the Wallace Gift Shop in my hometown. As I placed the angel in its traditional location, on the top ledge of a mirror, a memory came flooding forth.  I have unpacked this distinctive little box with the angel inside each and every Christmas, so why does the memory show up this year and not in the past?  I do not know.  Maybe that’s how memories and our hearts work together. There is a readiness to remember and a time that is best for the heart.  What I do know is that seeing this angel and the name of the Wallace Gift Shop have invited delightful hours of putting the pieces of its story and mine into place.  I am thankful for friends from my hometown who have helped me find the pieces.


My childhood memory remembers Mildred Wallace as a petite woman whose eyes simply twinkled. She dressed impeccably, often wearing warm brown tones that matched her welcoming personality. Q Wallace was tall and thin, with a quiet and kind demeanor. His smile stretched across the fullness of his face.  Mildred and Q seemed well suited to each other. Together they owned and operated a quaint and unique gift shop of beautiful items for the home. Scandinavian dishes and cutlery, unusual jewelry, hand-blown glass, small and delicate figurines lined the many shelves in the small and intimate store.  Everything caught the eye. Everything spoke of quality. I remember feeling the need to be so careful as I moved through the store, fearing I might knock something over. The Wallace Shop was THE place to find distinctive gifts. To receive a box from the Wallace Shop meant that the giver had taken time to find something unique. For many years my friend, Andrea, and I exchanged silver charms for our bracelets on birthdays and Christmases.  Lingering over the intricate charms to find just the one that recognized a significant life event was one of the simple joys of being in the Wallace Shop.   This was a place where wonder and joy found each other.


Mildred was a friend of my mother’s and became a friend of mine. There were several occasions when I was invited to her home for afternoon tea or a luncheon.  In seeing her home, one caught the magic that this small woman manifested.   Tasty food, savored over conversation, was served on beautiful dishes. The table was thoughtfully appointed with flowers, linens, and a centerpiece that spoke of the season or the day’s occasion.  Frequently a gift for every guest added delight at each place setting. All were handmade or from the shop.


I know that the small choir angel was handmade.  Q spent much of his time in the woodworking room of their home.  His carpentry tools and a wooden lathe made beautiful works of art. The round base that held my angel was by his hand.  Mildred did the rest.  She glued the Scandinavian ribbon in its glittering gold and white colors around Q’s base, added a colorful paper to the bottom underneath and then cut out the typewritten name, Wallace, gluing it into place.   Just as one would turn over a fine piece of porcelain or glass to see its authentic marking, here was the evidence that this was a Wallace creation.


There is both an ache and a joy in a memory.  The Wallace Gift Shop and its proprietors are no longer with us.  While this is due to the natural passage of time, I feel sadness. This specialty shop and its kind creative owners touched so many lives, bringing joy to those who purchased a gift from their captivating inventory as well as those who received one in its distinctive box. What delight the Wallace’s surely would find in someone remembering them and their endearing shop. This tiny Christmas angel takes me back to my childhood, yet the enchantment of Mildred and Q and the Wallace Gift Shop is as real and present as ever.  Their giving spirits grace Simplicity each Christmas as their angel is unpacked, touched and remembered.  Especially this year.

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