The Stampbox. It was on my mother’s desk. Later, after her death, when I asked for it, I first discovered that it simply contained English sewing needles.
But it was so pretty. It still makes me happy to look at it. We were not allowed to play with it when we were children. It was a modest, square wooden box, Scottish checkered red and green, with a few flowers on top against a yellow background, and lined with yellow paper inside.
How often my mother’s eyes rested on that box when she was doing her household accounts or when she was writing letters to me when I was studying in Berlin. When I received those letters I hardly ever read them because the field post letters which arrived at the same time were much more important. Much later when she had been dead for a long time, I reread them and felt so much disappointment and anguish and was so bitterly ashamed of my neglect of her, that I bound the letters together and never looked at them again.
This box was also on the desk when mother was writing poetry. She wrote funny theatre pieces for festivities and songs to be sung at the table that were very successful with her humor and in their short form. For herself she probably tried to write serious things, but gave up and never showed us anything. She had no self-confidence and didn’t put much value in those things, because of the harsh criticism she applied to herself and also to others. When I look at the box today, I often have the feeling I must make up something to her, to live out something she never dared to do. It wouldn’t be possible within one’s deepest self to long for life when one has only one’s own life to fulfill. I am convinced that I inherited many unfulfilled dreams and wishes from my mother and grandmother that yearn to be realized.
– Louise Straus-Ernst, The First Wife’s Tale: A Memoir