From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

The Mailbox

“You’re a wonderful mother,” I wrote on the Mother’s Day card with the picture of sunflowers, garden gloves and watering can. “You were always home for me after school, with warm cookies and milk. You led our 4-H club and worked in PTA. Best of all, now you’re my friend, sharing with me a love of beauty, puzzlement at the mysteries of men and respect for children.”

I walked out the gravel driveway to the mailbox, opened the metal door and slid in the card. As I shut the door and pulled up the red flag, I remembered another mailbox from long ago. . . .

As a child I spent hours in a small playhouse in the back yard. I decked it out with curtains strung on twine, a window box planted with marigolds, and a mailbox made from a coffee can.

The can was nailed to the outside wall of the playhouse, next to the window. It was painted with green house paint and fitted with a small board inside to create a flat horizontal surface.

One languid summer day I ran into the house and found my mother mopping the kitchen floor.

“Mama,” I asked, “could you bring me some mail?”

She straightened up and held the mop in one hand, massaging the small of her back with the other. She smiled, and her eyes softened as she looked at me, her suntanned, pigtailed sprite.

“Well, yes, I think I can, after I finish this floor,” she said. “You go back to the playhouse and wait awhile. I’ll be there.”

So I ran outside, letting the screen door slam behind me. I skipped down the narrow brick path to the clothesline and under it to the playhouse beside the dwarf apple tree. I busied myself with little-girl housekeeping: washing my doll dishes, tidying the bed, sweeping the floor with the toy cornstraw broom.

Then I heard steps on the brick path.

“Mail time,” Mama called in a high voice. Then I heard the thunk of envelopes firmly striking the inside of the coffee can.

I waited to give her time to walk back to the house, then rushed out of the playhouse and reached into the can to grab my treasure. Shuffling through it, I found three envelopes, a catalog and a small package. What a haul!

I sat on the grass that sloped down to the garden to open it.

Naturally, I went for the package first. Tearing away the brown grocery sack paper, I lifted the lid from a tiny box. Wow! Two sticks of Juicy Fruit gum; a square of waxed paper wrapped around a handful of chocolate chips, raisins and miniature marshmallows; and a new Pink Pearl eraser. I munched on the snack mixture while I explored the rest of my mail.

Thumbing through the seed catalog, I enjoyed the brightly colored flower pictures. Then I spread the envelopes out in my hand. Each was addressed to “Patty, Playhouse, Back Yard, Oregon” and posted with an S & H Green Stamp. I slipped my finger under the flap of one and ripped it open. It held a flyer from a car insurance company. In the next I found an advertisement for magazine subscriptions with a hundred tiny stamps to stick onto the order form. From the last envelope I pulled a page of notepaper.

“How are you doing?” I read in my mother’s perfect printing. “It’s been beautiful weather here, though a little hot for me. I’ve been canning beans. We have a lovely, large garden, as usual. Do come visit us. You know you are always welcome. Love, Mama.”

She signed it in “writing” with swirls at the beginning of the “M” and at the end of the “a.”

That was probably forty years ago.

I thought Mama and I had become close friends only recently. But remembering the mailbox, I realized I was wrong. The mother who took the time from her mopping and canning to gather up some junk mail and trinkets to put into a package, write a personal note and deliver it all in true play-acting style was my special companion even back then. Mama was always my friend.

Patty Duncan

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