Simple Wooden Boxes

Simple Wooden Boxes

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Simple Wooden Boxes

It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has.

Henry Ward Beecher

I suppose everyone has one particular childhood Christmas that stands out more than any other. For me, it was the year that the Burlington factory in Scottsboro closed down. I was only a small child. I could not name for you the precise year; it is an insignificant blur in my mind, but the events of that Christmas will live forever in my heart.

My father, who had been employed at Burlington, never let on to us that we were having financial difficulties. After all, children live in a naive world in which money and jobs are nothing more than jabberwocky, and for us the excitement of Christmas could never be squelched. We knew only that our daddy, who usually worked long, difficult hours, was now home more than we had ever remembered; each day seemed to be a holiday.

Mama, a homemaker, now sought work in the local textile mills, but jobs were scarce. Time after time, she was told no openings were available before Christmas, and it was on the way home from one such distressing interview that she wrecked our only car. Daddy’s meager unemployment check would now be our family’s only source of income. For my parents, the Christmas season brought mounds of worries, crowds of sighs and tears and cascades of prayers.

I can only imagine what transpired between my parents in those moments when the answer came. Perhaps it took a while for the ideas to fully form. Perhaps it was a merging of ideas from both of my parents. I don’t know for sure how the idea took life, but somehow it did. They would scrape together enough money to buy each of us a Barbie doll. For the rest of our presents, they would rely on their talents, using scraps of materials they already had.

While dark, calloused hands sawed, hammered and painted, nimble fingers fed dress after dress after dress into the sewing machine. Barbie-sized bridal gowns, evening gowns. .. miniature clothes for every imaginable occasion pushed forward from the rattling old machine. Where we were while all of this was taking place, I have no idea. But somehow my parents found time to pour themselves into our gifts, and the excitement of Christmas was once again born for the entire family.

That Christmas Eve, the sun was just setting over the distant horizon when I heard the roar of an unexpected motor in the driveway. Looking outside, I could hardly believe my eyes. Uncle Buck and Aunt Charlene, Mama’s sister and her husband, had driven all the way from Georgia to surprise us. Packed tightly in their car, as though no air were needed, sat my three cousins, my “Aunt” Dean, who refused to be called “Aunt,” and both my grandparents. I also couldn’t help but notice innumerable gifts for all of us, all neatly packaged and tied with beautiful bows. They had known that it would be a difficult Christmas and they had come to help.

The next morning we awoke to more gifts than I ever could have imagined. And, though I don’t have one specific memory of what any of the toys were, I know that there were mountains of toys. Toys! Toys! Toys!

And it was there, amidst all that jubilation, that Daddy decided not to give us his gifts. With all of the toys we had gotten, there was no reason to give us the dollhouses that he had made. They were rustic and simple red boxes, after all. Certainly not as good as the store-bought gifts that Mama’s family had brought. The music of laughter filled the morning, and we never suspected that, hidden somewhere, we each had another gift.

When Mama asked Daddy about the gifts, he confided his feelings, but she insisted he give us our gifts. And so, late that afternoon, after all of the guests had gone, Daddy reluctantly brought his gifts of love to the living room.

Wooden boxes. Wooden boxes, painted red, with hinged lids, so that each could be opened and used as a house. On either side was a compartment just big enough to store a Barbie doll, and all the way across, a rack on which to hang our Barbie clothes. On the outside was a handle, so that when it was closed, held by a magnet that looked remarkably like an equal sign, the house could be carried suitcase style. And, though I don’t really remember any of the other gifts I got that day, those boxes are indelibly etched into my mind. I remember the texture of the wood, the exact shade of red paint, the way the pull of the magnet felt when I closed the lid, the timedarkened handles and hinges. .. I remember how the clothes hung delicately on the hangers inside, and how I had to be careful not to pull Barbie’s hair when I closed the lid. I remember everything that is possibly rememberable, because we kept and cherished those boxes long after our Barbie doll days were over.

I have lived and loved 29 Christmases, each new and fresh with an air of excitement all its own. Each filled with love and hope. Each bringing gifts, cherished and longed for. But few of those gifts compare with those simple, wooden boxes. So it is no wonder that I get teary-eyed when I think of my father, standing there on that cold Christmas morning, wondering if his gift was good enough.

Love, Daddy, is always good enough.

Martha Pender grass Templeton

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