The Inheritance Box

A conversation with a friend yesterday reminded me of an idea that had crossed my mind years ago when we were packing up a lifetime of accumulation in my father’s house. This was the idea of the “inheritance box.”

The idea is that you get to pass on exactly one box of stuff, a standard-capacity box about the size of a footlocker. Everything ELSE you ever owned — absolutely everything — is dispersed to the poor, or confiscated by the government, or simply burned. You can pass along anything that will fit in the box, but the lid has to close and latch. You can stuff it with gold. You can put in photographs, or faded theater tickets. You can load it with books or journals. You can leave it empty.

Oh, and of course you can choose to pass on anything that you received in YOUR inheritance box from your parents, if you got one (you may have to share stuff with your siblings). But assuming that box was full when you got it, you’ll have to take something out to add your own stuff: throw out great-great-great grandfather’s lock of baby hair, or pitch a box of faded photographs from your grandparents’ generation. If you were an only child and received TWO boxes — or if you were beneficiary of a childless couple and ended up with four or more boxes — you’ll have to choose.

One box.

What would you put in your box? What would you want to receive from your ancestors in your parents’ boxes.

I’d be seriously pissed-off to receive a box filled with nothing but gold coins. Or thousand-dollar bills, or million-dollar Certificates of Deposit. I don’t care what they’re worth. It’s only money, and soon spent, unless it’s too much to spend, in which case it becomes a burden. It is also a kind of insult — is my ancestry of such low character that they had nothing better to pass along than money? Or did they think so poorly of their offspring that they thought we needed the handout?

Nor was I especially happy with what my parents and my uncle did, which was to leave behind an entire house and garage full of a lifetime of flotsam, to sift through in the few days we could spare before the world once again harnessed us to the plow and forced us to resume our quest for daily bread. That experience was brutal beyond any expectation.

Here’s what I would pass on.

I’ve written a short autobiography for my boys. That would go in the box. One thing I always missed was a real sense of knowing my father, especially as I grew older. His past was largely closed, and even his meticulously recorded daily diaries go back only to shortly before he married my mother at the age of forty-two. Those diaries provide very little insight into the man: they are more like ship’s logs, with notes of daily activities, few comments, and no hint of his passions or desires. But I could tell you the morning temperature and what time he ate breakfast on July 2, 1968.

I wouldn’t include my diaries, I think. They are the opposite of my father’s, entirely too self-indulgent.

I would score and print all of the music I’ve written, and that would go into the box, along with CDs of performances. That’s a work in progress: I certainly hope I have notes for unfinished works when I pass, and it would be my Last Will that the notes should be stuffed into the box as well.

Same with my writing, especially if I become a published author. I might take a chance and pass those as digital media, and let my descendants decide which (if any) to pass along to the next generation and transcribe to the medium-of-the-hour.

I’d leave a single silver pentacle. Let the distant descendants make of that what they will. They’re welcome to make up stories.

A family tree, though it is truncated on my father’s side by immigration, and on my mother’s by estrangement and neglect. I should try to put together something better, though, since I’m now at the living apex of the tree.

Some photographs, but only a few of the many thousands I possess. I inherited nearly six thousand slides from my uncle, and hundreds from my father — I’ve been able to view only a fraction of them myself, and most record people and places I do not know.

A very few video recordings, transcribed to DVD. Let the descendants figure out how to pass them on.

A copy of The Lord of the Rings, which is still (IMO) the best book I’ve ever read.

Since I have so little from my ancestors for the inheritance box, there would be ample space for whimsy. A wine cork to represent my love of wine. An unused bottle label for the very first beer I ever brewed. A receipt from the grocery store to show what we ate and what it cost. An unopened condom, just to keep anyone from taking it all too seriously.

What would you put in your box?