Mom's infamous version of hide (it) and seek

When i tell my son I've put something important in a safe place, he blanches. "Not the same 'safe place' you lost my high school track photo in?"

"Lost it?" I say. "I was saving it until I could afford to frame it." I point to the dining-room shelf. "See, buddy boy? There it is."

"Yes," he says. "You got it framed, all right, almost a decade later, when you finally found it again."

"Details, details," I say, waving my hand dismissively. "Anyway, to answer your question: No, this isn't the same place."

It never is. The thing is, most people have one reliable spot where they securely store the important things, like their son's track photos. I have dozens, possibly hundreds, of safe places. Some are traditional, like my hope chest. Some are obscure, such as the inside of the pair of high-heeled shoes I bought but have never worn. Some are impossible, like the everflowing kitchen junk drawer. Some are highly creative, like between the pages of one of my billions of books. And I'm inventing more safe places constantly. Now, if I could just remember where they are....

The pickier members of my family point out that having countless hiding spots defeats the whole purpose. But I prefer to see it as an adventure. When I finally found Aaron's track picture, it was tucked securely inside "Gone With the Wind." That hiding place gave me two good smiles (when I hid it and when I found it) and dozens of treasure hunts in the years between. And, as I pointed out to Aaron, it was still in perfect shape. Completely unharmed.

"So it was safe," he said. "What good is that if you can't look at it?"

"There you go with those details again," I told him.

When I was growing up, we had one particular Miller family safe place. It was a squat green-and-black-splotched white ceramic container the size of a cereal bowl, with a knobbed lid. Letters across the front proclaimed DRIPPINGS. It had originally belonged to a long-forgotten set of Mom's dishes, and was always kept on the kitchen counter.

Our drippings bowl was never used for its intended purpose to collect bacon grease. Instead, it collected the drippings of our lives: Pennies, nickels, and dimes. A stray dollar bill. Tickets to long-ago raffles. Sales receipts. Notes from teachers.

There were also photos. A letter or two. A stub of orange crayon. Disengaged buttons. Scraps of newspaper articles. And more. Much more. Sometimes I would lift the lid just to inhale the wonderful aroma, a fine blend of copper and pencil lead and crayons and newsprint.

If the paperboy were to show up with his hand out, I could usually scrounge enough change from the drippings bowl to pay him. If my clothing needed temporary assistance, safety pins could always be found there. Ditto for pencil stubs, paper clips, thimbles, and the tomato-soup cake recipe. When we'd ask Mom, "Have you seen my whatever?" she was sure to say, "Did you check the drippings bowl? I'll bet it's there." And somehow it always was.

I COMPLETELY forgot about the drippings bowl after I left home. A while back, I visited my sister in her new house in Texas. I opened the cupboard in her magazine-perfect kitchen. And there it was.

"The drippings bowl!" I said, as amazed as if I'd found a stegosaurus perched next to her juice glasses. "For Pete's sake!"

"Yes," Tracey said. "It's been here all along."

"Can I sniff it?" I asked.

"I want to, too," she answered. And we smiled a very Miller smile at each other, composed of all those tiny memories I share with my siblings and no one else.

I guess I didn't actually say it, but I'm almost sure Tracey knows how happy I was to find the family's drippings bowl in such a safe place.

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