The Little Black Box

The Little Black Box

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Little Black Box

The hardest thing a person must do is gather together the belongings of a loved one after that person’s death.

For me, my dad was both Mother and Father, having lost my mom when I was only five years old. When he succumbed to liver cancer at the age of seventy-five, I was devastated. Somehow I expected that he would live forever. Now I was faced with going through his closets and bureau drawers, discarding or giving away his possessions. One never knows what can be passed on to someone needy.

When I was very young, Dad used to disappear into his room and reappear with money for me when I needed some. I never really knew where it came from and thought it strange that this room would always bear financial fruit for me. Then one day, I overheard Dad tell my older sister to go into his room and take some money out of the black box. Why had I not been allowed to see the black box or investigate its contents?Was I too young, or did my sister have special privileges I did not have?

This black box became an obsession with me. Throughout the years, it came back to haunt me. What and where was that box? What treasures were hidden there, and when would I be allowed to behold its magical contents?

The years passed, I grew up and Dad grew older. Funny how you expect your parents to stay forever young. His hair grayed, his face wrinkled and his frame bent, but the laughter remained in his eyes each time I saw him and stayed until his last breath.

While packing and sorting things in his room that day, not once did I think about that black box. With tears welling and reality for the task at hand holding them back, I had to finish this and be done with it. This was the final chapter of my dad’s life, all the necessities and the memories reduced to trash bags and boxes.

With the closets finished and the bureaus empty, the room emanated loneliness. Dad was gone, his things were going, and a new era in my life was beginning. How do you go on without one that you loved so much, without that person being there when you most need him? Who will answer the phone now when I call to say, “I love you, Dad”?

One last drawer, the night stand. Such an integral part of his final days—the resting place for the telephone, his pills, the eyeglasses. I opened the drawer and my eyes beheld the little black box. Not what I expected . . . or did I know what to expect? Should it be jeweled and trimmed with satin? Knowing my dad, the box was as it should have been: a simple, leather-covered, flat metal box, edges tattered and worn, overflowing with papers.

With shaking hands I reached for it, closed the bedroom door and spilled the contents on the bed. What I found in that box brought my life back to me, every phase of it— my mother, my childhood, tragedy, happiness, love.

Inside that box were remnants of all the things my dad cherished all his life. His marriage certificate to my mom, wrinkled and crisp with age; her death certificate; a few coins that must have held some real significance for him; letters of thanks from a dear old friend, long passed away, whom my dad had helped during tough times; a favorite photo of my mom in that yellow dress my dad so loved and so often spoke about; a photo of me when I was just six years old with a child’s handwritten message, “To Daddy, Love, Debbie”; and cards. Many, many cards from me to my dad—Christmas, birthday, Father’s Day cards from years gone by and years just past—each with a note inscribed inside from me to him, baring my soul and letting him know how I really felt about him.

I was in that box! My mother was in that box. No money, no insurance policies, no important legal papers— just items of no consequence other than to the man for whom they meant everything. I wonder how many times he would take out this box and read and reread the items inside, smiling or crying to himself. I would guess he did that often, as the papers appeared well handled.

I had never known that I was one of the most cherished of my father’s possessions. The box told me, the box showed me, and it gave me back what I had lost only a few days before—a father’s spirit and undying love for his daughter.

The black box is mine now. When the time comes for my last day on this earth and my possessions are reduced to green trash bags, my children will find this box. And inside, they will find the things that I most cherished in my life. When all is said and done, my children will have the good fortune of finding themselves, along with my spirit and love, inside the little black box, and realize that the only real important thing in life is the love we have for each other.

Deborah Roberto McDonald

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