Every family has one. Okay maybe you don’t have a matchbook urn specifically, but you have something weird that your family has just accepted as truth.
A wonky toilet that won’t flush unless you jiggle the handle just right. A squeaky stair that everyone just skips over at this point. A family recipe for a casserole that no one really loves but everyone keeps making. You understand.
Our family had our thing too. Growing up, everyone in our house always knew where to find the matches. And all the important documents. In the urns.
The Little Match(book Urn)
One urn sat next to the fireplace and was filled with matchbooks from every wedding my parents had ever attended. Personalized matchbooks as a wedding favor were all the rage in the 1980s. Bob and Lisa, Steve and Diane, Kevin and another Lisa… they all wanted to make sure you remembered their special day when you were lighting up a cig and ignoring the Surgeon General.
Since neither one of my parents smoked, they didn’t go through matches very quickly. So they got to remember Lisa and Kevin’s killer DJ and crab cakes for many, many moons. So many moons in fact that the matchbooks really needed a home of their own because eventually we ran out of space on the windowsill above the sink. The obvious solution, an urn.
I don’t know why. I never actually questioned it. Neither did my brother. We just accepted the fact that the urn next to our fireplace did not hold the remains of a dear relative, but rather the remains of a really nice evening at the Westin in Stamford, Connecticut. Also the solution to all of our birthday cake lighting problems.
Baby, You Can Light My Fire
Fast forward to 2011 and matchbooks weren’t as popular of a wedding favor any more. Personalized napkins were still hanging in there. Little bags of candy maintained classic status. Even cameras as the table weren’t totally outdated. But matchbooks sales had seen a rapid decline in direct correlation to the rate at which people started to realize that they liked breathing clean air.
But my father was really concerned that if Glen and I got married and there were no matchbooks everyone would forget it ever happened. We tried to convince him that the band was going to be really memorable. And that we picked a REALLY good cake. (Brownie cake, canolli filling – slay all day.) But Pops wasn’t having it. We were getting personalized matchbooks. If not for the guests, for the urn.
For the record, our wedding guests obliged Pops quite nicely and there are only about 15 matchbooks left for the urn. Not bad.
What’s Safer Than an Urn?
The matchbook urn wasn’t the only urn in our house though… There were actually two urns by the fireplace. The second urn was probably weirder I guess.
Even in a very digital world, we all have important documents that identify us to various government agencies. Think Social Security Cards and Passports. And in the 90s banking was much less interwebish and much more “can I write you a check”ish. So we had check books and check balancing books and other various financial forms that needed a safe home.
I think in most houses people keep this stuff in a sock drawer. Or a safe if you’re fancy. (Side note, Glen and I have a safe. But it’s NOT safe. I can’t get into it, for security purposes. Just know it mirrors the ridiculousness of our lives.)
But my OG family didn’t trust our socks to keep secrets. We trusted the urn. The important document urn. Literally every piece of paperwork our family would need in case of emergency was tucked away in this urn along with several years of birthday checks that were screwing up at least three Aunt’s check balancing book because banking hours were inconvenient.
This urn got to go on top of the mantle instead of right next to the fire. So that was pretty smart I think. And I mean it had a lid, so things were pretty secure in there.
WHY did my family have so many urns with so few people in them? WHY didn’t I ask more questions about this?
I guess I could ask those questions now, but I won’t. And even given the opportunity earlier this year when my brother and I were talking to my parents about the urns, neither of us really dug into it. (Uncomfortable death pun not intended.) We just laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed.
The urns are simply part our history. They provide memories of every day experiences and a quirky way to reflect on what life was like when it was just my mom, dad, brother and me. The represent inside jokes, that even if I internet them, will still be our little piece of weirdness that other people won’t totally get. Much like I really hope that Baby Howie will go down in family history as a hilarious, weird, and a kind of creepy truth that binds Glen, Jack, Norah and I together. Maybe that was part of the reason I left him in the garage… Oh boy, we’re getting deep and projecting future nostalgia upon a garage baby doll that might actually kill us all one day…
I’m struggling with how to end this without being abrupt. Because it’s an odd story. So I think the best thing to say is I love you Merm, Pop, and T. Thanks for making me the big old weirdo that I am today.
And I hope maybe someone reading this post will get a little sentimental about their wonky childhood home toilet, or staircase, or casserole and call their parents or siblings to say hey. Tell them I said hey too. I mean if it comes up, don’t force it.
With a whole lot of weird and a whole love of love for the people who made me that way,