Embracing the tiny, Day 4: I see London, I see France

hand-painted ceramic hinged box

The summer before I turned 13, my most unusual uncle—he’d already had a brief career as a Franciscan monk—was marrying a French girl he’d met while they were both serving in the Peace Corps, in Iran.

In one of my family’s smarter moves, we decided to travel en masse to her family’s tiny French village for the wedding. I believe that the mayor of said village not only officiated at the legal union, but catered the lavish event at my aunt’s family’s château after the church ceremony. (And that was the least remarkable thing that happened over those few days. By a French country mile.)

As long as we we’d gone that far, my mother figured her daughters might as well get a slightly broader sampling of culture. So the three of us schlepped first to Paris and Versailles, then over the Channel to an interminable series of world-class rose gardens in the countryside (mitigated somewhat by daily bowlfuls of mulberries drowned in heavy cream and blanketed with sugar), finally ending up in London (which might as well have been billed as Home of that Awesome Tower Full of Actual Dungeons and the World’s Biggest Jewels.)

I know now that Mom must have grossly overextended herself to get us there in the first place, never mind the impulsive upgrades made upon seeing the ratty rooms she’d booked by mail in those pre-pre-pre-Internet days. But we still got to select a few treats as mementos.

The small, ceramic box I chose is barely big enough to hold the tiny hand-painted rose inside. Yet somehow, in the grand tradition of curio holders and clown cars, it also manages to contain so much more: my first waltz, first Champagne, first sleep under a down comforter; a house with both peacocks AND a wine cellar like the one in Notorious; the Mona Lisa and Buckingham Palace; candied violets and pizzas with an EGG in the MIDDLE; and me and my sister and our mom, camped out in our swanky hotel room watching The Muppet Show on the BBC.

All that, and, currently, a pair of bright orange earplugs.


This is Day 4 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.


  1. Welcome back Colleen! You have been duly missed. Love this story…all of them and you. I also had a Europe trip at 14 under very different circumstances. I don’t have a tiny box ;)

  2. My grandmother is 95. For the last ten years or so, she always wants to GIVE me some of her things when I visit – her toy doll collection, a set of dishes, doilies.. It took the story of your small, ceramic box and what it ACTUALLY held inside, for me to remember why she wants me to have these things. Thanks C.

  3. What a charming story — absolutely delight-full! I have numerous memories / objets d’art of my own, and I am inspired by your example to get my blog & memoir installments written & out there into the world, hoping they will charm readers as well… Thank you!

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