“Mary gets everything!” my brother Mark teasingly chided our parents as they were slowly downsizing, distributing items among family members. Not that our parents had heirlooms of monetary value. If we wanted anything of theirs it was purely for sentiment.
Mark wanted and was given the box on the left. Six inches tall, the hand-carved chest has a hidden lock and key—you have to know how to slide the books in order to find the key and lock. The titles on the tiny books are Hungarian classic literature. Inside is a neatly hand-written inscription, “With grateful love from the Mazanyi Family.”
Miklos Mazanyi made the box and presented it to my parents when I was quite young. He, his wife Elizabeth, and 21-year-old son Nikolas were displaced persons from war-torn Hungary. Our small-town Minnesota church sponsored the family, providing a modest home and other assistance to get them started in a new country. They were brilliant, creative people who needed just that little bit of help at the starting line to prosper.
Because of them I began to understand what it was like to be a refugee: to lose all, to face frightening uncertainties, to have to learn a new language and culture, to be dependent on the generosity of strangers. Most of all, I learned that a community is enriched when welcoming the stranger—not only with handmade gifts but with a deepening of soul. That lesson has never been more vital than now, with sixty-eight million people in the world displaced because of conflict or persecution—more than at any time in human history.
A few years back Mark apparently decided he’d had the Mazanyi box long enough. He sent it to me for my birthday and a jolly reminder that “Mary gets everything!” A few years after that he one-upped himself. A woodworker in his own right, he sent me a box he made, having mastered the art of inlay. I’m not sure if the mountains are the North Carolina Blue Ridge, where he lives, or the Okanogan range that envelops my valley. Either way, he’s right. Mary pretty much gets everything.
(To celebrate my 75th birthday this month, I’m posting daily stories about the stuff I’ve acquired over a lifetime and can’t let go of. I invite you to consider and possibly share the stories that make you treasure your own stuff.)