The Shadow Box by
(284 Stories)

Prompted By Memorabilia

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After both of my parents had died, I was left with some special memorabilia and a powerful need to remember them. Thus, the shadow box. For me, it captured some aspects of their lives and gave me comfort to look at it on the shelf above my computer.

After both of my parents had died, I was left with some special memorabilia and a powerful need to remember them.

The background photos include (from top) my parents with me as a baby; my mother in front of her father’s tailor shop, wearing a suit he made for her; my mother with my brothers and me in front of our newly built suburban home; and my parents and younger brothers (I’m hidden behind the watch).

The scarf draped across the box was Mom’s. She wore scarves most days and was a wizard at creating all kinds of arrangements with them, a talent I did not inherit. She often wore the small pin on the scarf to hold it in place.

The elephant pin came with its own special story. It was the first gift my father gave my mother. She called it her pre-engagement gift. I’ll give Dad credit for choosing something unique, but holy cow, no way was I going to wear that. Apparently, Mom lost the pin on a bus and was heartbroken. So, she put an ad in the newspaper describing it and offering a modest reward for its return. And amazingly, someone did return it to her (or maybe not so amazing given its beauty).

The Mickey Mouse watch was a gift to my father for his Bar Mitzvah. My father wrote this to my son, to whom he gave the watch on the occasion of his first grandson’s Bar Mitzvah:

A procession of gifts – the inevitable pen and pencil set, a siddur [Jewish prayer book], a tie clasp, envelopes with $2.00 and $3.00 in cash, a rare $5.00 bill, and a Mickey Mouse watch… By 10:00 pm, the “man of the day” and the older sister are dispatched to the babysitter who has been minding the younger brother and sister at the house about a block away. Their big day is ended. The adult revelers go on and on. The only memento of all of this — the [Mickey Mouse] watch — is now in Jonathan’s proud possession.

Sadly, we could never get the watch working. Even if we had, a thirteen-year-old boy in 1984 had little interest in it. I kept it in a drawer thinking I would give it to my son when he was older, but in my heart, I knew I would keep it. My father had told me the story of the watch so many times that just looking at it reminds me of him.

I loved creating the shadow box as a way of dealing with my feelings of loss and being an orphan, even though I was lucky to have become one as I approached age 70. The objects left behind by our loved ones can trigger powerful memories. Finding a way to display some of my parents’ things keeps them alive in my heart.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Lovely Laurie!
    Altho I claim not to be sentimental and indeed am the throw-out type, of course I’ve kept things that are meaningful to me.

    I once gave my mother two lovely coffee mugs. After her death I found one – the other one obviously broken at some point over the years – and it now sits in the bathroom and holds our toothbrushes so I smile at it twice a day!

    And over 50 years ago during an unhappy time in my life I was living in another city. In the mail on Valentines Day I found an envelope from my mother with a white handkerchief dotted with rows of red hearts. Needless to say I treasure it to this day.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      It’s those little things that end up meaning so much. I created memory books for my parents and mother-in-law to mark special birthdays. They came back to me after they died, and I treasure them now. Your mother sounds like she was a very caring person. That handkerchief was such a sweet thing to send.

  2. Oh, Laurie, what a beautifully evocative way to display these cherished treasures, and what a lovely reminder of the love for your family so clearly evident in this shadow box. You’ve probably already thought of this, but you might want to print out your story and attach it to the back of the box so that the details are retained as it’s passed from one generation to another.

    You’re right, it was amazing that someone found and returned the elephant pin — different times. For one thing, I’m afraid so few people read a physical newspaper any more that the chances of that happening today are slim to none (although someone did find and return my cell phone once). Your father was quite the writer himself…either you or your son must have that original note as well, which is a treasure in itself.

    I’m so glad you took the time to add this story!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Barb, what a brilliant suggestion to put my story on the back of the box. Otherwise, my kids will have no idea of its significance. My father was a pretty good writer and should have been an art or history professor rather than an accountant. He wrote a memory for each of my kids’ Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and they were really interesting. Perhaps there will be a prompt under which I can publish them posthumously.

  3. Laurie, this story is lovely, and I’m so impressed with the beautiful shadow box you made. It enables you, and others, to see all these beloved items instead of having them stashed away in a drawer. Makes me think I should do something like that with some of my treasures. I have to admit I’m a little confused by your father’s note. Was he describing his own bar mitzvah, or Jonathan’s? Or a combination of the two? Is the note in the shadow box with the watch?

    Thank you for sharing your story and your shadow box with us.

    • Suzy says:

      Oops, sorry Laurie, I made the above comment from the wrong account.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      The note was part of a longer piece he wrote describing his own Bar Mitzvah, which was exactly 50 years before my son’s. It’s really very interesting and I published his story years ago on some blogging site. He also wrote things for my daughters, which were a window into a different era. Maybe there will be a prompt that fits one of his stories. Barb suggested I print out the story and attach it to the back of the box so my kids don’t toss it when I am gone. Think will do that today.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, I absolutely love the idea of the shadow box and everything you’ve put inside yours. The way it is arranged, the look of it, every piece of memorabilia is redolent with meaning and loving associations and the above comment is 100% correct; so much better to have this all artfully displayed in front of you everyday, than stashed away in some drawer. This powerfully evokes your loved ones and keeps them in the room with you. I have the walls of my study full of photos (including those of my mother as the young dancer that I used in the Anna Pavlova story), so I am surrounded too, but not in the same way. This is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing, and perhaps, inspiring a few of us.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, it happened somewhat by chance. After my mother died, I inherited many of her scarves and the pin. Neither of my sisters-in-law wanted the elephant pin. I’m sure they didn’t know the story behind it and thought it was ugly (it is, but that’s what makes it so special). I have a cousin who displayed things in shadow boxes and I realized I could do this as well rather than leaving all of it in a drawer. Like you, I enjoy surrounding myself with old photos. Right now, I’m struggling with what to do with the ones that no longer fit in our condo. Will probably pack them away in our storage locker.

  5. Marian says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your parents, Laurie, and a terrific way to remember them. I can understand why you kept the watch and how this box helps you process your feelings of loss and remembrance.

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