October 20 • 10:15 PM

Family history found in well-packed box

January 10, 2018
The box is there waiting for me on the top step of my deck.

I can always tell how big a hurry the UPS driver is in by the location of the boxes. Same for the postal carrier, who once tossed a small package into the sleet covered grass about a quarter of the way up my very muddy, very long and rutted driveway last season. When we're in that stage where the frost is just coming out of the first few inches of ground, but what's beneath is still frozen solid, my driveway becomes something nightmares are made of. I get why the carrier abandoned all efforts just seconds into the journey to my home. Every time I make my way up or down the driveway when it's at that point in our ever-changing hard-to-semi-winter season, I think this must be how it feels to "mud bog." Despite the wheel gripping, slip-sliding uncertainty of whether I'll make it slogging through the slippery wet ruts, I still don't get the draw.

Back to the box. It's there, waiting for me. My hands are full when I approach the steps, so picking it up has to wait for round two or three of hauling things into my home. By the time I bring in my yoga gear, lunchbox, travel mug, water, cat food and birdseed, I'm on trip number three, and I'm grateful that the box is light.

It's from my aunt, and I know what's inside. Or at least I think I know. There's a special crystal singing bowl workshop at the yoga studio this Saturday, and I know that my aunt has prepared some amazing and educational things to hand out at the event.

I put the box up on my counter, take out the scissors and have a go at the packing tape.

"Nothing is going to escape from here," I'm thinking as I slice and hack away. "This is packaged to endure all sorts of handling (or mishandling)," I add.

Once the tape is taken care of, I open the box and draw in a breath. I thought I knew what was in there, but I thought wrong. I pull out some packaged nuts, organic flaked coconut, spice mix, and cacao handmade right here in the Imlay City area before I even see what I was expecting.

After discovering the treats, I see two books, a packaged electric incense burner, a box of lapis lazuli stones each placed in a blue organza bag that just seems to glow, another box of mala beads, a note, and a cellophane sleeve filled with photocopied information about all of it. I am amazed. All this in a standard (if not somewhat small) 14" x 14" box.

My amazement doesn't end there. I call my aunt to let her know the treasures have arrived, and to share my astonishment at her packing and shipping prowess. I tell her it makes me think of my dad, because he had an engineer's way of seeing space and function, and it makes me smile. Then I learn something new about my family, about my roots. About yet another thing to be most grateful.

My aunt tells me she learned her skills packing boxes with my Zio Pasquale (Uncle Pat). I never met him, but he lived with my Nonni and Nonno (grandma and grandpa), and my aunt and my dad when they were growing up in Detroit. After World War II ended, my aunt would help Zio Pasquale at the kitchen table, which he'd take over for sorting and arranging things to be packed in boxes and sent back home to Italy, where he had a wife and daughters.

My aunt tells me the boxes had to be carefully packed, wrapped in brown paper, tied with twine, wrapped in a cloth sack (like a flour bag), and tied with twine again. They'd carefully write the address on the cloth, hoping it would still be readable when the letters spread. Before shipping it out, they answered many questions about what was inside.

Today, Amazon just puts a box inside a box with a little bubble wrap and calls it a day..

Also today, thanks to my aunt I can imagine how joyous and awe-filled my relatives in Pescosolido, Italy were, pulling out one amazing and useful thing after another, sent with love from their family. I know the feeling, and for that, am so blessed and grateful.

Email Catherine at

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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