The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary

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The  first one I thought of was a seashell, either one of those
blue-grayish or  sometimes rose-colored scallop shells, or else one of those little
golden,  almost-translucent jingle shells. If there is something that is
special and  memorable about growing up on Long Island, it is having those great
beaches just  a few miles away in each direction. No matter how long I'm away
from there, I  can readily conjure up the smells, sounds, and feeling of
being on those beaches  or bobbing around out in the water. A seashell would
be my first  artifact.
A  half-inch copper elbow is another one that immediately comes to mind.
Growing up  doing plumbing on my parents construction sites is a really
significant part of  who I was as a kid. Including a plumbing fitting would be a
Buried  somewhere in a box of stuff, I still have some badges from Boy
Scouts. Without  those years in Scouting, I would still likely have become an
advocate for the  environment. But I never would have known how much pleasure
comes from being  deep in the woods or up on mountain tops, far away from
suburbia. I wouldn't  have known that saying about leaving it better than you
found it. And I was just  talking to my housemates the other day about how
my time spent as an instructor  in BSA's Junior Leader Training Conference
was my first time as a teacher. This  gave me a hint of how interesting and
fun teaching could be. I'd include a Boy  Scout artifact.
Then  I think of my 33 years of raising Nubian goats. Do I use a photo of a
favorite  doe from years ago? Or one of my old advertisements cut out of
the Dairy Goat  Journal? Or perhaps just an old, dried, rock-hard goat berry?
(How many tons  of those did I shovel in 33 years?)
Such  were my thoughts the other day as I drove around doing errands after
You  see, one of the two characters in this stunning picture book is an
elderly man  who began collecting objects in little matchboxes a young boy on
his way to  America. Each object relates to something significant in the old
man's earlier  life.
The  other character in the story is the old man's great-granddaughter who
has just  met him for the first time in her life.
In  a tale told entirely in dialogue between these two characters, the old
man digs  into these matchboxes and shares his past with the young girl
object by object.  The accompanying illustrations, done in acrylic gouache,
alternate between the  color-filled scenes of present day and illustrations that
are reminiscent of  those old brownish photographs I remember from my
grandparents' houses.
I've  just thought of another: I should include one of those well-worn
poems on index  cards that I collected from poetry collections in the library
and always kept in  a file box next to me at circle time at the childcare
center. Perhaps I'd pick  one with a favorite Karla Kuskin or Myra Cohn
Livingston poem. That would be a  good artifact to represent those years of working
with young children at the  Center.
"'We  were headed for Ellis Island, in New York. Someone told me that men
would stick  buttonhooks in our eyes there.'"
THE  MATCHBOX DIARY is very much an immigrant story. In listening to him go
through  those artifact-filled matchboxes with his great-granddaughter, we
learn that the  old man was born in Italy, came to America as a child with
his mother and  sisters -- his father having already made the voyage in order
to earn money to  send for his family -- and that the young boy immediately
went to work with the  rest of his family.
He  took some hard knocks as an immigrant kid amidst not-always-friendly
peers. But  he eventually had the opportunity to go to school, learn to read
and write, and  pursued a career. Now, in having shared his story with her,
he suggests that  maybe she is a collector too.
So  what would you put in your matchboxes?
Richie  Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ (
[email protected]
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