Who’s in the box?
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
In June I got a call from a former neighbor in Mar Vista, where I lived from 1997 to 2008, who told me a package had been delivered to my former address.
The voicemail said, “It’s from the Neptune Society, so it must be a relative who’s died.”
My mother left us in 2017. Aside from a portion of her ashes I spread in the ocean up in Cannon Beach, Oregon, she’s in my cupboard. My father has been gone since 2002, and his ashes are in the ground at Riverside National Cemetery.
So, I wondered, who’s in that box?
In the months since, I talked this over with my wife, kids, and relations. No help. My only guess is some relative of mine wanted me to have his or her remains. But who? And … why?
I’m an only child with a tiny family. Except for one hermit-like uncle, my forebears I’m aware of are all gone. My cousins on my mother’s side, which once numbered four, are now three, and I’m only in touch with one and a half of them. Long story. My dad’s side of the family is entirely MIA. Maybe my long-lost cousin Mark had died, and my address is the only one they could find among his effects? The last I heard from Mark was in 2013. He was in Oregon and wasn’t well.
Two Fridays back I had evening music work in Culver City, so I finally pointed my car west and endeavored to solve the riddle.
I pulled up to my former home, once a charming, light-filled 900-square-foot post-war box built in 1947 that held many wonderful memories over the 13 years I was there. The new owner, Jared, an architect, knocked it down after buying it in 2014 and built a stunningly modern, much larger, light-filled showpiece.
He invited me in for a look at the mystery package.
It was immediately apparent there was nobody in that box. It was too small and light to have been ashes. I opened it to reveal a carefully folded American flag, obviously the parting gift from a military funeral. I looked for a note, but there was nothing in there but flag.
Still perplexed, I thanked Jared, took in the familiar waning daylight of my former beach-adjacent property one more time, and skedaddled off to load in for the evening’s show.
The next afternoon I had time to inspect the package closely. I unfolded the flag completely. Aside from being quite dried out and straw-like, I found no clues as to its origin. I refolded it and put it back in the box.
That’s when the clue found me: the Riverside, CA postmark was dated August 6, 2002. It was clear then it was the flag from my father’s early August 2002 military funeral at Riverside National Cemetery. Mystery solved!
So why did it take 20 years to arrive?
“We apologize for the extreme delay in delivering the package in question,” wrote United States Postal Service Strategic Communications Specialist Duke Gonzales. “Without specific tracking information it is difficult to determine the cause of the delay. I can share with you, however, that we process and deliver in a timely manner more than 425 million pieces of mail and 25 million packages daily. Occasionally a mail piece or package gets misrouted. The bottom line is that we are committed to delivering every letter and package, no matter how circuitous the route.”
Gonzales declined to speculate on its exact whereabouts for the past two decades but said there was a strong possibility it fell behind a piece of furniture at a USPS facility and rested comfortably until its recent discovery.
However it got here, I’m pleased it did. Though I would have preferred a storyline of family intrigue and previously unknown relations, it was nice to get my father’s dried out, brittle flag after all these years.
The erstwhile package felt like a hereafter smile from a man who was just two years older than I am now when cancer got him. He missed a lot, dying as he did two weeks after my now 20-year-old college junior daughter was born and years before his two additional grandchildren showed up.
Just like the $100 bill from my mom I found behind a picture frame about four years after her death, it seems my parents aren’t done talking. And that’s fine by me. I enjoy these little communiques.
I’m 98% certain they’re just little hiccups in the time/space continuum, but these odd dispatches do me some good in that they spark memories of both of them.
Isn’t that all we hope for, to be remembered?