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A chest of memories

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — T he chest was full of ornaments, special ones bought for a little girl named Riley, all of them packed neatly in their original boxes, most of them cataloged in a journal meticulously kept by her mother for her first four Christmases.

“This is a memory book for your Christmas ornaments,” her mother wrote in festive red ink. “I figure by the time you begin asking me questions about your ornaments I will probably have forgotten the answers. So here’s my cheat sheet given to you with all my love. Momma”

Here’s a porcelain rattle with a teddy bear inside from Uncle Robby. Here’s a Precious Moments angel from Grandma. Here are boxes and boxes of ornaments, some for Riley’s first Christmas, for being a sister, for being a daughter, for loving Pooh and Tigger and Simba and Pumbaa and Timon (her favorites, her mother says in the journal), for the puppy she wanted to love if Momma had let her have one.

From what can be gleaned from the journal, Riley is 26 now.

She is also without these ornaments, these memories.

Laurie Kraw walked outside her home on Cardenas near Lomas and San Pedro NE on the morning of Dec. 2 and found the box in her front yard. Kraw estimates that someone had thrown the box there between 9:30 the night before and 7:45 the morning she found it.

It looked, she said, like someone wanted to get rid of it.

Kraw said she could hardly imagine why.

Perhaps, she thought, it had been stolen but tossed when the contents were found to have more sentimental than street value.

Perhaps it had inadvertently fallen from a vehicle.

“It was heartbreaking,” she said. “This was somebody’s memories.”

So she started looking for that somebody.

She posted about the box on NextDoor. She contacted Albuquerque police and spoke with a helpful dispatcher who located a nearby residence that had been robbed over the Thanksgiving holiday. The occupants had the same last name as the one listed in the journal.

But when Kraw called back, a less than helpful dispatcher told her she had no information and no record of her previous call.

Kraw called KOAT, which aired a story on its newscast Dec. 3. No one came forward to claim the box.

So she came to me.

It would have been easy to pick through the ornaments, choose a few, toss the rest, toss it all, think nothing more of it.

Kraw couldn’t do that.

“I keep wondering why, of all the places, this box ended up on my property,” she said. “And I thought, maybe there’s a reason. I’ve had my house broken into. I know the feeling, the awful feeling of losing things that I can never replace.”

She also knows what it’s like to give and to feel a mother’s love, like that which gleams from the pages of the journal.

Christmas 1993 was Riley’s first Christmas, according to the journal.

“You would sit in your seat or in my arms and watch the tree constantly,” Riley’s mother wrote. “As always you were a joy to be around.”

For Christmas 1994, Riley was 17 months and “quite a handful but a joyous one” who loved the lights and the tree.

Riley was 2 and her mother was pregnant Christmas 1995, and the lights and the tree still delighted her.

By Christmas 1996, Riley delighted in her baby sister, Ricki, and in helping to decorate the tree with her own ornaments.

The journal ends after that.

Kraw is a mother. Her own mother passed away in 2012, and what she wouldn’t give now to find a chest of memories like the one that landed serendipitously in her front yard.

“Things like that mean a lot more to me now,” she said.

They still mean a lot to Riley and her mother, too.

I was able to track down Riley’s family in Albuquerque and spoke with her mother, Carrie Davis, who seemed both shocked and thrilled to learn that the box of ornaments had been found. On Friday, she came to the Journal to pick up the chest.

She explained what happened: Riley, who now lives out of state, was visiting the family for Thanksgiving and asked to take her box of ornaments back with her because for the first time she was putting up her own tree.

On her last night in town, Riley stayed at her sister’s house on Cardenas and Marble NE, not far from where Kraw lives. The next morning – Dec. 2 – she discovered that her truck had been broken into. All that was taken was a craft beer from a six-pack, a bag and the chest of ornaments.

“She figured they were gone for good,” Davis said. “She figured whoever stole them would find no value in them and throw them away.”

Which the thief had.

But they had found Kraw.

Soon, they will find their way back to Riley, because Kraw knew the value of what was in that box, in those memories, in that mother’s love, and those can never truly be lost.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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