The Box

For twenty years I’d been in possession of a strange, sad box.

It contained the last earthly possessions of a woman named Eva Kaye who died with no heirs. A social worker, the executor of her estate, paid me to clean out her house when I was a poor college grad. I couldn’t bear to part with her personal effects, even though nobody else seemed to care about them.

After many years sitting in the back of a closet in my parents’ house, my mother asked me to finally throw it away so she could make some progress emptying out and renovating her house. I still couldn’t bear to, so its contents wound up sitting on a table in my apartment.

By one stroke of luck, Eva was extremely diligent about labeling all her old photos. Between that and her copious stack of postcards, I was able to dive deep into public records, social media accounts and old news articles and was able to eventually find a set of relatives in California, another set of cousins in New Mexico, and the daughter of an old friend in New Jersey who remembered Eva and were elated to reclaim some of her belongings.

Eva’s only child died in 1966, in a car crash in the Pine Barrens, near the Air Force base where he was stationed. When I finally got in touch with her distant relatives, some didn’t even know he’d existed. I found some old correspondence with other ham radio nerds, but he’s still the only missing thread. I hold onto one of his mother’s needlepoints of him as a memento, so he won’t be totally erased from the world.

On a lighter note, it turns out that Eva was friends with Jessica Walter‘s mom. When I first got the box, Arrested Development was still on the air, and I recognized her immediately. I even accosted her once at a Sidney Lumet retrospective in the city to show her the pic of her, her mom and Eva. She was moved, but for silly and long-forgotten reasons I only had a photo of the photo on my phone that day. Fortunately I was able to find Jessica Walter’s daughter and mail her this photo and some other childhood photos of her grandmother as part of this project.

The box is gone, and most of the mysteries are neatly solved, though others will certainly have died with her. Still, what a unique experience giving new life to her. May her memory be a blessing.