An early chapter of The Tiffany Box, A Memoir, by Arizona-turned-California author Kathleen Buckstaff, raises the subject of picture day at school. Buckstaff describes her then 4-year-old daughter’s decision to wear a beloved but “tattered, stained sundress” for a photo that will forever document who she was during that year at school.
Buckstaff is conflicted. She can’t help being a bit status conscious (“I will look like a bad mother if you wear that dress”) but she also admires her daughter’s spirit and strong sense of individualism. She struggles internally but opts to let it be. Her daughter wears the dress.
A similar, courageous act of surrender underlies much of The Tiffany Box, and is the source of its soul-satisfying charm. Buckstaff, in a series of emails to friends, essays she originally published in The Arizona Republic, diary entries, holiday letters and drafts she wrote from 1995 to 2001, puts it all out there, pregnancy warts and all.
It is a story of loss–of loved ones, of the illusion of control–that never loses sight of the humor, beauty and joy that can accompany life’s most challenging moments. It is a moving tribute to motherhood, and to the bonds between mother and child that transcend time, temperament and even tragedy.
It’s been many years since I’ve made it a priority to carve out enough time in a 24-hour period to truly savor a book. The Tiffany Box left me no choice. From the moment I dove in, I was captivated. The republished essays elicit profound moments of wisdom and generational continuity from seemingly everyday events to which all mothers will relate. Sections where the storytelling is done by email or diary post have a sense of intimacy and urgency that is often painful to read, but leave us wishing we could count ourselves among Buckstaff’s most trusted friends.
The book, of course, centers on her relationship with her mother, and the long, slow process of losing her to cancer at the far-too-young age of 59. Buckstaff stored her mother’s papers in her garage, in a blue box from Tiffany & Co. that once housed a celebratory wedding gift. It took some time before Buckstaff felt strong enough to revisit this treasure trove of memories. “I thought I would find death inside the Tiffany box,” she writes. “Instead, I found life.”
She also found inspiration for a beautiful story that will forever keep her mother’s memory alive.
Buckstaff’s memoir premiered as a one-woman play, “The Tiffany Box, A Love Remembered,” at Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale in November 2010. She performed the play to sold-out audiences here, and then in San Francisco and New York City. The enthusiastic response inspired her to expand her story.