Rest in Heavenly Peace, Mariah

I am saddened to learn of the death of Mariah Fulton.

I never met Mariah in person.  She and I corresponded only through email messages and one brief phone call. Yet, I felt I knew her from the keepsake story she shared with me two years ago. Mariah crafted a poetic story about her music box and allowed me to publish it in Project Keepsake. Her story begins on page 132.

Mariah Fulton's keepsake story titled, "The Music Box," starts on page 132 of Project Keepsake.

Mariah Fulton's keepsake story titled, "The Music Box," starts on page 132 of Project Keepsake.

Prior to publication, I asked Mariah to send me a byline. She described herself as “a retired teacher who cares for rescue animals and travels abroad as often as possible with family and friends. She is careful to maintain ancient friendships, and when her health permits, is active in her writing group. Over the years she has volunteered with several organizations and has enjoyed her association with Metropolitan Ministries since 2008.”

As a tribute to Mariah, I am printing her story, "The Music Box," in its entirety on today's blog. I've loved the story since the first time I read it. I can visualize her communicating with Christopher via her music box—the notes of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" bouncing down the hospital hallway and interrupting the loneliness and isolation of the children's ward.

A special thanks to my friend, Janie Watts Spataro, for encouraging Mariah to write her music box story and share it with me. 

And thank you, Mariah, for contributing so much goodness to this world. We will miss your light. —Amber

A round music box that easily fits in the palm of my hand sits on a shelf in my son’s old room that is now occupied by my computer. Its metal casement is the color of cinnamon. The topside showcases a faded scene of a lady insect performing her morning ablutions. She perches on a rock rising from a stream, her wide wings stretching down towards the water. On a tree branch above her stands another insect who pours a pitcher of water over the bathing insect’s head. A black wind-around handle is secured at the top of this picture, the knob still showing traces of its original blue.

Another sketch adorns the underside—a tea-stained sketch of a large bird whose chest is greatly expanded. He, perhaps she, holds a sheet of music before his open beak and trills the song, “Morgen Kommt der Weihnachtsmann.” The tune most of us know as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

My father found this music box in rubbled but recovering Germany on his first business trip there in 1948. I chose it along with my stuffed white Persian cat to accompany me to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore during the spring of my fourth grade year. I stayed there ten days for a complete check-up following two extended illnesses. The pediatrician in charge of my case was a woman, unusual in those times, named Dr. Guile.

The first night, I was assigned to a bed in a large room with other children. My mother was not allowed to stay with me nor could I play my music box. Though I was weary from the overnight train ride, I found it difficult to sleep. I held both my cat and the box close throughout those long alone hours.

The next day, the hospital staff moved me to a private room. Mama stayed with me for a day or two, but then returned home to North Carolina to look after my brothers while my father was away on another business trip.

The morning following Mama’s departure seemed endless. My only company was a book, my cat, my music box, and one of several nurses who checked my vital signs from time to time and brought in meals. In those days nurses wore crisp white uniforms, white stockings and shoes, and white stand-up hats with black ribbons that denoted their rank. I felt secure being in the hands of well-trained professionals. They gave me permission to play my music box, and in the afternoon, I repeatedly turned the little knob and sang its tune softly.

The next day I read for a while, then went with a nurse for various tests. Back again in my room I entertained myself with several turns of the music box. Suddenly I stopped, thinking that I heard a melody coming from the hall outside my room. I tiptoed to the door but saw no one. Returning to my bed I played again, and as I ended the song I heard the reply again. I knew absolutely that another music box was answering. This exchange continued for several minutes. When my tune heard no answer, I played four or five more rounds, but there was only silence.

A nurse walked in to check on me, and I inquired about the mysterious music coming from the hall.

“Did you hear another music box?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said with a smile. “Our entire staff has enjoyed listening to both of you.”

Both? She told me about a young boy two doors down, Christopher Perry, who lived inside an oxygen tent. His heart was very weak, and his mother and father had chartered a plane from Melbourne, Australia to fly him to Baltimore.

The next day his parents entered my room and introduced themselves. I can still see their smiles, remember the gray dress his mother wore, her ash blonde hair that fell in curls to her shoulders, and Mr. Perry dressed in a light colored suit. Their gentle English accent was a delight.

And so I passed the days hoping from hour to hour to hear my new friend’s signal. We began to improvise by playing in various rhythms, or by turning our knobs as quickly as we could, or as slowly, slowly as a tune could be plucked and still know itself. On the occasional day that no answer came, I asked the night nurse to stay a little longer before turning off the light. I wanted special time with my adult caretaker, but I also needed to ask new and troublesome questions about death.

The day that Mama returned, Christopher felt strong enough to answer my call, and we improvised for many minutes. Mama walked down the hall to introduce herself to the Perry family, and they quickly bonded.

My departure date finally arrived, and before the nurse wheeled me to the elevator she brought Mama and me to the door of Christopher’s room. I said hello and waved to him and to his parents who were standing by his bed. Through his tent window, I could see that he closely resembled his mother. As ill as he was, he smiled and lifted his small hand from the bedcovers. It held his music box.

Our families agreed to keep in touch, and for several years his sister, Jane, and I corresponded. Her letters and a large picture of Christopher are stored among decades of accumulations in my attic.

This very small music box accompanied me to college, on my five-year stay in Europe, to various states when I returned to America for good, throughout my married years, and into old age. Whenever events diverted my life from its carefully crafted flow and I felt isolated, my aging music box nudged loneliness and reminded me of the important lesson from childhood—connection and comfort arrive in many guises.
— Mariah Fulton

To read, Mariah Fulton's obituary, click here.