If you sit next to me on an airplane, be prepared for a full Steve experience. Discovering the deepest secrets of my fellow passengers is one of my hobbies.
Several years ago, I sat next to an older woman on a flight back to Manzanillo. She had lived most of her life in the San Jose area of California, and loved to travel. Somehow, our conversation turned to post cards. We both detested the custom. But she told me something that has stuck with me ever since.
Whenever she heads off on one of her world trips, she buys souvenirs for her nieces. Not t-shirts or spoons or tea towels. She will pick out knickknacks here and there. A stone ring. A feather boa. A piece of amethyst.
When she returns to San Jose, she boxes up the pieces and mails them them to her nieces with instructions to compose a play using each of the collected pieces. She was quite honest in assessing the project as a mixed success. Some of the plays are rather blasé and pedestrian. But some are quite creative.
She reminded me of my mother and grandmother. They started reading to me when I was very young. As a result, I have both a love for reading -- and for writing.
That is why I am off to see my grand-nephew Colin today. And I will not go empty-handed. You may have already guessed that the box and contents at the top of this essay are about to become his.
Everything is from Mexico. The wooden box. The turkey vulture feather. The raw topaz. The green obsidian. The black obsidian. I thank my mother for the addition of the pirate swag bags.
Inside the box are instructions written on parchment. And here it is.
As the great conqueror Hernán Cortés lay dying on his bed in Castilleja de la Cuesta, Castille, his former companion La Malincha quietly entered his room. He had last seen her over 20 years prior.No matter what he chooses to do with the box and its contents, I hope he will remember it as a gift of opportunity -- to share the joy I once had learning to be creative on the knees of my mother and grandmother.
Back then during the height of the Conquest, they were inseparable. She was his interpreter and his advisor. Without her. Nueva España would not be part of the Spanish Empire.
In her hands, La Malincha carried a wooden box. Not the type of ornate boxes in which Cortés stored the deeds to his Mexican estates. It was a plain wooden box.
She placed it next to his bed, and told Cortés: “ Ah, mi terron de azucar. We have come to the end of our journey together. Before you precede me on your greatest adventure, I have one last thing to share with you.
“This box is not yours. It includes the mysteries of Mexico – secrets you were never allowed to possess in this life. One day the box will be delivered into the hands of a young boy. If he can, he will solve the puzzle that is my land.
“The box will leave with me, and I will never see you again. But the mystery of Mexico will continue.”
With that, she left the room. The box was then lost to time.
Until today. It now comes to you.
Inside you will find five simple treasures. Alone each means little. Together, they tell a tale.
And it is your tale to tell. If you choose to solve the mystery, you must first identify each individual element, and then combine them in a story, a song, a poem, or a play, that you will share with your parents.
Keep the dream alive.