A mystery key in an envelope

A few years ago, my last surviving grandparent passed away in her 90s. Ann Duffy was as strong-willed as they come. She lived her life on her terms. She had to. Her husband was killed in World War II. He was a part of Patton’s Third Army, and he died in France near the border with Germany. My grandmother was a single parent before anyone even thought up the term. She went on with life, worked hard, and like many of her generation, saved everything that might be of value. She was a tough cookie, and she loved her family dearly. No matter what happened in life, she kept going. Even the premature death of her only daughter—my mother—didn’t make her give up.

After her death, the task of going through her things fell to me. There were a number of personal mementos. The telegram she received to officially notify her that her husband had been killed. A letter from her husband—my grandfather—to his daughter written not long before his death.

An envelope. With a key inside.

Among my grandmother’s closely held items is an old envelope. It is preprinted with a business address: “First Safe Deposit Company, I.N. Van Nuys Building, 210 West Seventh Street, Los Angeles, California.” This was used before we ever had ZIP Codes. The return address space has a handwritten entry: “P.F.C. H. Duffy.”

This wasn’t my grandfather’s doing. My grandfather’s name was Elmore Duffy. This envelope came from his brother, Harry Duffy. Inside the envelope is a safe deposit box key, perhaps to box number 660. There is also a note with the business name and address in what I presume is Harry Duffy’s handwriting.

That’s it. A key and a piece of paper with the address written on it. Nothing to give any hint at what might have been in that box. Whatever its contents, they were important enough for my great-uncle to give the key to my grandmother. When he did this, I don’t know.

The odd thing is that Harry Duffy died in 2005 after living in Nevada for a long, long time. By then, the First Safe Deposit Company was long out of business. The I.N. Van Nuys Building had stopped being a financial center in the 1970s or 1980s. Why Uncle Duff, as my grandmother called him, never went about reclaiming his property from the safe deposit box is a mystery.

It’s possible that Uncle Duff felt the contents weren’t important enough to travel to L.A. Perhaps he forgot about the safe deposit box. Whatever was in the box is long gone.

This mystery is not one that is solved by Googling the business name to see what became of it. There’s nothing out there that I’ve found.

It’s okay, though. If I was somehow able to get the contents, they might not live up to the box contents created by the imagination.

Epilogue: I checked the California unclaimed property site. Nothing there.


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