The Music Box
Savannah wiped her sweaty brow with the bandana holding her long, thick, raven hair back. She was four hours into her move and it felt like a year had passed.
“You’re not slowing down on us, are you?” A tall, lanky man in his mid-thirties teased as he walked by carrying two boxes.
“In your dreams, Connor!”
She watched as he disappeared inside her new house. It wasn’t big, and it certainly wasn’t new, but it was hers. She’d saved up enough money to pay for it outright and was proud of that. Picking up yet another box, she followed her older brother into the house and made her way to the kitchen.
It was like navigating a minefield—boxes were everywhere. Connor and his buddy Dawson were working hard. Another trip or two and the moving van would be empty.
Thirty minutes later, Connor popped his head in the kitchen doorway. “That’s the last of it. We got your bed set up. Do you want me to help you unpack or return the rental truck and call it a day?”
Savannah walked across the kitchen and reached up to give him a hug. “No, I can handle the unpacking. I would appreciate it if you could take the truck back to the rental place.”
He gave her a bone-crushing squeeze, not knowing his own strength. “Great. I’ll bring pizzas by at about six o’clock tonight. You should have worked up an appetite by then.”
“Smartass! I’ll see you later.”
Once the men had left, a peace descended on the home. This was why she’d bought the place. She took a deep breath and let it seep into her tired body, then resumed setting up her kitchen.
Three hours later, there were only a few boxes left to unpack. She would leave them until morning. She walked through her little home and sighed in contentment before collapsing on her bed for a well-earned nap.
A loud knock at her front door jolted Savannah awake. The sun had almost set, so she flipped lights on as she made her way to the front door.
Connor stood with three large pizza boxes balancing on one arm and a case of cranberry ginger ale in his other hand. She stepped back, and he hurried to deposit his bounty in the kitchen. She closed the door, grabbing a roll of paper towels and a couple of large glasses out of the cupboards before making her way into the living room.
Connor was right behind her, carrying two plates on top of the pizza boxes and a couple of cans of pop. They curled up on the sofa and stuffed their mouths with the hot, greasy pizza loaded with pepperoni and cheese. Savannah flipped open the lid to the second box and grabbed a large piece of her favourite: salami and pineapple.
Once their hunger was satisfied and the dishes washed and put away, Connor walked through the house, peeking into each room as he went. “Wow, you got a lot done today!”
“That was the game plan. Tomorrow, I’ll unpack the remaining two boxes and this whole nightmare will be behind me. I still can’t believe my landlords sold the house and only gave me a week to get out!”
“I know. Are you going to file a complaint with Residential Tenancy?”
“No. I am going to let it all go. I believe this was meant to be because this house was available for immediate possession, and it was within the amount I had saved for a down payment, but now I’m mortgage free!”
“That’s amazing! Congrats, sis. I’d best head home. My day starts at dawn.”
“Of course, stay safe out there.”
Connor was a member of the Taber’s police force. One of the reasons she moved here was to be closer to him. All they had was each other. After locking the front door, Savannah walked through the house one more time and smiled to herself. She decided to put some things into the storage closet in between her master bedroom and spare bedroom. After about an hour, most of the stuff she wanted to keep was in the closet, and she began collapsing boxes for recycling. In the last box, she found her mother’s jewelry box and decided to put it in the closet, but the only space was on the top shelf.
She grabbed one of the solid wooden chairs to her dining room set and placed it on the floor in front of the closet. Grabbing the jewelry box, she carefully climbed on the chair and slid the box onto the top shelf. It hit something and stopped sliding, hanging precariously off the edge of the shelf. What in the world?
She moved the jewelry box down a shelf and got down to grab the flashlight out of the kitchen cupboard. After she’d climbed back up onto the chair, she shined the flashlight on the top shelf. There was something back there! Savannah placed the flashlight on the second shelf and slowly reached upward with both hands while balancing on her tiptoes. Her fingers struck a solid object, and she managed to carefully pull out a small wooden box with a handle on the side.
Savannah carried it into her bedroom and placed it on the bed. After examining the outside, she turned the handle in a few circles and opened the lid. The most beautiful music began to pour out of it. She didn’t recognize the tune, but it caused a bittersweet melancholy to rise up in her heart, culminating in a deep grief.
It was then she noticed the little gold plaque on the underside of the lid: In Loving Memory of Lily Anne Walker, April 3, 1920 – April 10, 1920. Savannah wept as the music continued to play.
The next day, Savannah looked at the legal documents she’d signed a few days before taking possession of her house. The previous owners were named Bergman. The house had been build in 1917, so the music box had been left by one of the original owners. She found it very surprising that no one had found it before she did. Ninety-eight years had passed since baby Lily’s death.
After lunch, she decided to drive down to the local library and see if they had any microfiche newspapers dating back to the 1920s. Libraries weren’t her favourite places, but they did come in handy for research. Savannah was a lawyer, but this move meant she had to resign from the firm she’d worked at for ten years in Calgary, Alberta. Her new job was a partnership with the local lawyer’s office.
She approached the information desk at the library and waited her turn. There were three people in line ahead of her. A young woman looked up and smiled. “Good afternoon, how may I help you?”
“Hi, I’m new in town and trying to research the house that I’ve bought. I wondered if you had any newspapers from 1920 on microfiche?”
“Yes, of course, please follow me.”
Within minutes, Savannah was scrolling through newspaper articles trying to find any reference to the Walkers. Finally on the back page of the April 1920 Taber Times newspaper was a list of obituaries and Lily Anne Walker’s was there:
“Mr. & Mrs. Clarence Walker’s baby daughter passed away in her sleep during the night of April 10th. Lily Anne was only seven days old. A funeral will be held at St. Matthews Methodist Church on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome.”
Savannah searched for Clarence Walker and discovered he was the town’s police chief. No mention was made of his wife’s name.
“Pardon me for interrupting, my name’s Josie, and I work here. Are you finding everything you need?”
“I hope so. Clarence Walker lived in this town in the 20s and I’m curious if there are any of his descendants still living here?”
“There’s Betty Walker down at the bakery. She’s his great-granddaughter.”
“Thanks, Josie, you’ve been very helpful.”
The bakery was three blocks from the library. It was a sunny fall day, so Savannah walked there and took in the storefronts and window displays of her new town. She passed the dentist’s office and the town florist and saw the bakery across the street. There were people sitting at little tables outside enjoying their sweet treats.
The door chime jingled as she entered, and her senses were pleasantly assaulted by a mixture of baked bread, donuts, coffee, and chocolate. It was heavenly.
“What can I get you today?” The lady asked from behind the till.
“I’m looking for the owner, Betty Walker.”
“Well, you found her, dear!” The plump older woman with round glasses and rosy cheeks told her. She looked like the quintessential grandma.
“Do you have a minute to chat? I can grab a donut and coffee and wait for you.”
“Certainly, which donut would you like?”
“Boston cream and a dark roast coffee, black.”
Betty was quick with her order and motioned her to a table for two in the back corner. Savannah sat down and sipped her coffee while nibbling on the delectable donut.
“What can I do for you?” Betty asked, obviously curious.
“I moved into 121 Meyers Avenue yesterday and wondered if your family had ever owned it?”
“Yes, my great-grandparents, Clarence and Millie Walker lived there until May of 1920. They lost their only daughter when she was seven days old. The doctors didn’t know what SIDS was back then.”
“Lily died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?”
Betty nodded and seemed lost in her memories. “They blamed my great-grandmother for Lily’s death. There were countless theories, from not feeding her enough to smothering her.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“It was a different era, back then, and mothers were blamed when their infants died suddenly.”
“I can’t imagine how difficult that was for your great-grandmother,” Savannah said as she reached into her shoulder bag and lifted out the music box. “I found something that I think you should have.”
“What is it?”
“A music box that was on the top shelf of my storage closet in the hallway. Someone had pushed it right to the back, but I managed to pull it out.”
Betty’s face turned bright red as tears poured down her cheeks. “My father told me about the lost music box. It was almost a fable passed down through the generations. I didn’t think it was real.”
Savannah slid the little box across the table and Betty touched it cautiously before she gently opened the lid and read the inscription. The tears increased and Betty wiped her eyes with her apron.
“I don’t know how to thank you for bringing this to me. I only wish my father was alive to see it. Great-grandma Millie had this made after Lily passed.”
Savannah nodded. “Family history is important, and something like this is invaluable. Your great-grandparents had more children?”
“Only one, a boy named Kenneth. Grandpa Ken was my favourite—my dad, Michael, was his only boy.” Betty sighed and paused to wipe her face one more time. “What’s your name, dear?”
“I’m Savannah Nelson, the new lawyer.”
“Nice to meet you, Savannah. I look forward to getting to know you better.”
“Thanks, Betty. I feel the same way. In a sense, I know a lot more about your family, thanks to the music box and to you.”
Betty nodded and smiled. She picked up the music box and put it in the kitchen before serving the next customer.
Savannah left the bakery with a bounce in her step. There was no doubt in her mind she was meant to find that music box and get it back to its rightful owners.
She looked up into the clear blue sky and could almost sense Lily looking down and smiling.