You can view life in a lot of different ways.
Over the course of mine, I’ve imagined it variously as a puzzle to be solved, a race to be run, and a competition to be won. Sometimes when the weight of the world presses down, life can seem like a sentence to be served. But, as is the case with most things, there’s the counterpoint. On occasional rare and care-free times, life can also seem like a party to be enjoyed. Jerry Seinfeld called that “Even Steven,” I believe.
Lately, my paradigm of life has been this: “Life is a treasure hunt.”
Perhaps, it’s because I’m getting older – I’ve got four grandsons these days – but I’m finding more and more pleasure in uncovering some bit of knowledge or lost artifact that links the tangible goings-on of today with fading memories of yesterdays from long ago. It’s darn-near time travel if you ask me.
My mother pulled out a small, brown cannister the other day and handed it to me.
“You might want that,” she said. “That was Mama Gardner’s snuff tin.”
Immediately, my mind went back to sometime in the mid-1970’s when my grandfather Mort Gardner and I would eat lunch with his mother, Lois Gardner, at her home on East Main just east of where I now live. We’d break from our day of pumping gas and fixing truck flats at his Sinclair Service Station on the southeast corner of Water Street and Highway 45 and enjoy home-cooked vegetables and cornbread mid-day with “Mama Gardner” and my Papa’s siblings. They all spoke of my great-grandmother’s snuff-dipping in hushed tones, somewhat masking their mischievous glee at telling a secret and the nervous embarrassment that their own mama still unrepentantly dipped snuff … whenever she wanted. I immediately remembered that.
“Your Mimi poked those holes in the bottom,” my mother said. “Mimi” was Delia May Gardner, my grandmother. I flipped the tin over and sure enough there were holes pierced inward through the bottom of the snuff tin.
“She used it to cut out biscuits,” my mother added.
I’ll need a separate story someday to discuss my grandmother’s cooking. It was 90% of her existence for the duration of time that I knew her, about four decades. It was the way she showed her family that she loved them. And she loved them a lot.
“I’ve cut out biscuits with it, too, but mostly I just kept as a keepsake, because it was Mimi’s,” my mother said and slid the tin over to me.
“You should take it. Now you know what it is.”
Lately, I’ve been digging around in the historical collections of Simon Spight and Claude Gentry, which we house in the Tom’s Drug Store building on Main Street in preparation for future presentation. And in that effort, friends of mine and I have uncovered and rediscovered snuff tin after snuff tin – well, no tins literally, not yet. But I wouldn’t bet that more of those little metal cylinders themselves won’t ultimately be unearthed from the mountainous walls of papers, pictures, pots and presently unidentifiable items we’ve been crawling through.
We’ve found some western books and posters that we’ve have put on display at Six Shooter Studios just down the street – some from Gentry, some from Spight. We’ve pulled out Simon’s scale model of Baldwyn’s downtown, circa 1935, and we are going to restore it very soon. It’s an impressive four-foot by eight-foot model, handcrafted and painted by Spight himself. It needs to be seen.
We even found an old 1943 Baldwyn football schedule. My friend Simon had written on it “For Clark.” I smiled at that discovery, and I heard him speak the written words, in his unforgettable deep voice, in my mind.
So much stuff. I’ll tell you more about it in future weeks.
I left Mama Gardner’s snuff tin with my mother. Yes, I know what it is now, but I also know my time with that little treasure can come later. It’s got a good home for now.
Yep, life is a treasure hunt these days. Life is good.