The Box

The Box

From Chicken Soup for the Soul 20th Anniversary Edition

The Box

Opportunity is a parade. Even as one chance passes, the next is a fife and drum echoing in the distance.

~Robert Brault

When I was a senior in college, I came home for Christmas vacation and anticipated a fun-filled fortnight with my two brothers. We were so excited to be together, we volunteered to watch the store so that my mother and father could take their first day off in years. The day before my parents went to Boston, my father took me quietly aside to the little den behind the store. The room was so small that it held only a piano and a hide-a-bed couch. In fact, when you pulled the bed out, it filled the room and you could sit on the foot of it and play the piano. Father reached behind the old upright and pulled out a cigar box. He opened it and showed me a little pile of newspaper articles. I had read so many Nancy Drew detective stories that I was excited and wide-eyed over the hidden box of clippings.

“What are they?” I asked.

Father replied seriously, “These are articles I’ve written and some letters to the editor that have been published.” As I began to read, I saw at the bottom of each neatly clipped article the name Walter Chapman. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d done this?” I asked.

“Because I didn’t want your mother to know. She has always told me that since I didn’t have much education, I shouldn’t try to write. I wanted to run for some political office also, but she told me I shouldn’t try. I guess she was afraid she’d be embarrassed if I lost. I just wanted to try for the fun of it. I figured I could write without her knowing it, and so I did. When each item would be printed, I’d cut it out and hide it in this box. I knew someday I’d show the box to someone, and it’s you.”

He watched me as I read over a few of the articles and when I looked up, his big blue eyes were moist. “I guess I tried for something too big this last time,” he added. “Did you write something else?”

“Yes, I sent some suggestions in to our denominational magazine on how the national nominating committee could be selected more fairly. It’s been three months since I sent it in. I guess I tried for something too big.”

This was such a new side to my fun-loving father that I didn’t quite know what to say, so I tried, “Maybe it’ll still come.”

“Maybe, but don’t hold your breath.” Father gave me a little smile and a wink and then closed the cigar box and tucked it into the space behind the piano.

The next morning our parents left on the bus to the Haverhill Depot where they took a train to Boston. Jim, Ron and I ran the store and I thought about the box. I’d never known my father liked to write. I didn’t tell my brothers; it was a secret between Father and me. The Mystery of the Hidden Box.

Early that evening I looked out the store window and saw my mother get off the bus — alone. She crossed the Square and walked briskly through the store.

“Where’s Dad?” we asked together.

“Your father’s dead,” she said without a tear.

In disbelief we followed her to the kitchen where she told us they had been walking through the Park Street Subway Station in the midst of crowds of people when Father had fallen to the floor. A nurse bent over him, looked up at Mother and said simply, “He’s dead.”

Mother had stood by him stunned, not knowing what to do as people tripped over him in their rush through the subway. A priest said, “I’ll call the police,” and disappeared. Mother straddled Dad’s body for about an hour. Finally an ambulance came and took them both to the morgue where Mother had to go through his pockets and remove his watch. She’d come back on the train alone and then home on the local bus. Mother told us the shocking tale without shedding a tear. Not showing emotion had always been a matter of discipline and pride for her. We didn’t cry either and we took turns waiting on the customers.

One steady patron asked, “Where’s the old man tonight?”

“He’s dead,” I replied.

“Oh, too bad,” and he left.

I’d not thought of him as the old man, and I was mad at the question, but he was 70 and Mother was only 60. He’d always been healthy and happy and he’d cared for frail mother without complaining and now he was gone. No more whistling, no more singing hymns while stocking shelves. The “old man” was gone.

On the morning of the funeral, I sat at the table in the store opening sympathy cards and pasting them in a scrapbook when I noticed the church magazine in the pile. Normally I would never have opened what I viewed as a dull religious publication, but just maybe that sacred article might be there and it was.

I took the magazine to the little den, shut the door, and burst into tears. I’d been brave, but seeing Dad’s bold recommendations to the national convention in print was more than I could bear. I read and cried and then I read again. I pulled out the box from behind the piano and under the clippings I found a two-page letter to my father from Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., thanking him for his campaign suggestions.

I didn’t tell anyone about my box. It remained a secret.

~Florence Littauer

More stories from our partners