The Box

One day early in the autumn of the year I was nine, a padlock appeared on our basement door and we kids were told that until further notice, we couldn’t go down there anymore.

The first reason this was odd was that we only ever went to the basement when we were yelled at repeatedly to go down there and fetch something. There was nothing appealing down there for a child. It was an old farmhouse basement. It was dark and smelly and often featured resident mice and even, on occasion, a rat or two.

The second reason this was odd was that several evenings a week after supper, my father would go into the basement and bolt the door from the inside. And then he’d stay down there until after we went to sleep.

The younger kids were too young and self-absorbed to worry about this new development. I, however, being the eldest and incredibly wise[1] was eaten up with curiosity. First I tried clever ruses to try and trick my mother into telling me what was going on.

“What’s Papa doing in the basement all the time?”

“None of your business.”

“Aw, tell me.”




Drat! She was too clever for me.

So then I tried ever-so-casually to hang around the basement door and listen for clues. My mother, wielding a wooden spoon menacingly, ordered me away from the door.

But, one afternoon my mother told me to go into the basement and get a couple jars of cherries from the cold storage. I was on the verge of peeing my pants with excitement, hopping up and down, waiting for her to unlock the door, when she rememberd I wasn’t allowed down there anymore. So she got the cherries herself. And I had to leave the room so I wouldn’t see where she kept the padlock key. Very frustrating.

But at least I now knew the key was hidden somewhere in the kitchen! Aha!

For a while I was an incredibly helpful child, offering to put away dishes, sweep the floor, organize the pantry. I  frisk my mother under cover of pretending to hug her. I never found the key.

Fall turned into winter and then the Christmas madness started and I was distracted from the mysterious goings on in the padlocked basement – at least during waking hours. But when I went to bed, before I went to sleep and again first thing in the morning, before I had to crawl out of my warm duvet, my little brain feverishly imagined all sorts of outlandish possibilities for what could be going on down there.

And then it was Christmas.

And there under the tree, instead of colourfully wrapped gifts were five wooden boxes; each almost two feet long and one foot wide; each sporting padlocks of their own; each with the name of one of us kids painted on the lid.

There were gifts inside the boxes and the little kids dove right in and went mental over their toys, as kids are wont to do. But I was too overwhelmed at the idea that I now owned a little footlocker.

When you’re a young girl of almost ten, in a house full of unruly little kids, everything you own is up for grabs. Nothing is truly yours because at any moment one of the kids and/or their grubby little friends can get hold of it and mess it up or wreck it. Because that’s what kids do.

With these thoughts tumbling through my brain, I burst into tears.

 “What’s wrong with her now?”

“How should I know?”

“Hey you!” ( What’s the oldest one’s name again?) “Aren’t you going to open your present?”

Would it be too Hallmark hokey to tell you that somewhere around this point I threw myself into my father and wept mucusy thanks all over his shirt? Because while the other kids thought Santa had brought all this great stuff, I, never having been a Santa believer, suddenly realized that this is what my Dad had been doing in the basement all those weeks – making these boxes.[2]

 “Ya, ya,”my dad said and pushed me off him. “Go see what’s in the box.”

I don’t remember what was in the box.

The other kids used their boxes for a few years to store things; or to jump up and down on; or  as race cars — pushing each other around their bedrooms; or as footstools to reach high things. Eventually, their boxes were destroyed because, like I told you, that’s what kids do.

But I treasured mine. I locked away all my special things in there; all my private things. And it travelled with me when I moved away from home and has travelled with me ever since – always keeping my special things safe.

Of all the gifts I wished for Christmas as a kid and all the gifts my mother made herself crazy trying to find for us for Christmas – this is the best gift I ever got.[3]


[1] And by wise, I mean nosey.
[2] It’s triply odd because it’s the first and last time he ever got involved in the whole Christmas thing in any way.
[3] And not even just the box itself, which was and still is amazing, but the weeks of fun puzzling out the mystery of the padlocked basement and the thought that my dad had been down there in that awful place all that time making it.

32 responses to “The Box

  1. omg, omg. i am in tears xup. this is truly a beautiful story. i wish i could run into your arms and kiss you. seriously, very nice. happy christmas.

  2. What a great gift and what a perfect Christmas memory. Thanks!

    It’s funny that your daughter has never known that need to keep her toys/stuff safe. Same with my daughter. They had it easy when it came to possessions. No big brother to yank the string out of your Chatty Cathy or a little sister to color and tear the pages in your favorite book.

  3. What a great Christmas story. The box looks really well made too. I never received a hand made gift and don’t have that knack myself either.

  4. I LOVE this post!

    My girl is 9 and just starting to seek out that kind of privacy. Right now I have everyone sleeping in one room and what was her room has become the “go and do stuff away from the baby, store your stuff you don’t want messed with room”

    God houses are HUGE today aren’t they? Crazy that there is room for that!

  5. Sky – Thanks! I love that I still have it, too. It’s got all my report cards in it and some essays I did really well on and other bits like that — and my high school gym uniform. I haul that out every once in a while to horrify my daughter.

    Dr. Monkey – You’re quite welcome

    Raino – Gee, thanks. But really…not necessary. Really. I appreciate the thought though. Really.

    Geewits – It’s true. I shake my head sometimes at her sense of entitlement at what is “hers”. I can’t go into her room because that’s private. I can’t go into her bathroom because that’s private. I can’t look at her Facebook or emails or MSN because those are private. I can’t look into her bag or her wallet. Private, private, private. Lucky her. I had a wooden box. Everything else was open season.

    Linda – It was incredibly well made. It’s been hauled around for decades. I can’t understand how the kids managed to wreck all theirs in a few short years.

    Violetsky – Thank you ma’am. I’m still pretty “wise” – heh heh

    Sean – Thanks. Yes among the years of Christmas madness this one certainly stands out as something special. I’ll never understand what possessed my Dad to get involved in Christmas that particular year and never before or since.

    Mudmama – There are lots of great things about growing up in a larger family, but the need to get away from them every once in a while becomes intense — especially as you get older. I had my box for my stuff and I had acres and acres of land and bush to roam around in when I wanted to be alone.

    Meanie – I hope he was. I think he’d be really happy to know that I still have it and use and have done an entire post about it.

  6. Great story XUP. Funny how once in a while parents do things that seem so totally out of character. And these things always somehow prove just how much they actually love you.

  7. When I was ten I had eight younger sibs. I have nothing left from my childhood. One brother used to take bites out of the plants I’d sometimes bring home from a couple of nurturing (to me) relatives. And they wonder why I’m not the happy-go-lucky one.

  8. That’s a cool story. It’s not often we get a Christmas gift that affects us that way, that we remember forever with such fond memories.

    You know, this would make a great story for a childrens’s book. Seriously.

    I can see the title:

    “Father’s Giving Box”…or something like that.

  9. PS. I think this is the best post you’ve probably ever written.

    And I’m not being facetious…it’s actually quite a touching story.

  10. Jazz – Ya, it was a one-off kind of thing. Very odd, but I’m glad whatever spirit moved him that year, did.

    Grace – Good grief! Twice as many younger sibs. How did you survive? Did your brother ever give your pet turtle a nice long, hot bubble bath?

    Ellie – Thanks. I’m glad I took good care of it, too.

    Friar – Well, shucks – thanks. Maybe you could do the illustrations? My Dad didn’t look anything like a Viking, though. Are you any good with small, swarthy types? It WOULD be a fun story to turn into a children’s book.

    Skylark – Thanks, you old bucket of mush, you.

  11. I’m on board with the rest of them – great story!

    When I read my Dad’s book about his year in Korea, I was especially intrigued by his description of the foot locker he got at the time. It is also a great story and I was prompted to ask him if he still had it and he did. SO I asked him not to throw it away but when it came time for him to part with it, to give it to me. Much to my surprise, he gave it to me right then. I don’t have a place for it yet in the house so it languishes in the garage.

    Did you watch M*A*S*H? Do you remember the episode where Margaret shoots her foot locker to put it out of its misery?

  12. oh and nice box ….(I’m sorry, I can’t help myself, I mean I get councelling and all, but it don’t seem to help much, well maybe it does, I didn’t say it first)

  13. That is a great story. If you don’t turn it into a children’s book, it would, at the very least, be a great contribution for something like those mostly-sappy Chicken Soup books, lowering the sap content considerably.

    I’m sure XUP Jr. realizes how special that box is to you, and will appreciate it as much when she inherits it some day.

    Merry Christmas.

  14. Robin – Thank you. I’m sure Dads get lots of stuff right. I was hoping more people would tell their own happy Christmas stories — especially since we mostly hear all the crappy Christmas stories these days.

    Julia – I vaguely remember the MASH episode. Is your Dad’s footlocker one of those tin ones?

    Cedar – He rocked at that particular time and maybe a few others. And I will accept your box compliment in the spirit in which it was intended. Thank you.

    H&B2 – Whaddup, POT? (As in look who’s talking about mad story telling skills)

    Bob- XUP used to be fascinated by the box and want me to open it and go through everything with her that was in there. Now she’s too blasé to care about anything. But, hopefully when it comes time to inherit my stuff (90 years from now) she’ll have regained an appreciation for it. Merry Christmas to you, too, Bob. See you on FB

  15. Yes, it’s metal with reinforcement. It was originally given to a soldier in the US army who went to WWII and still has his name on it. When Dad was writing his book, he looked up the fellow who had passed away but found his widow and exchanged a nice few letters with her.

  16. What a great story! It reminds me of a similar story, not as elaborate or suspensful, but as memorable. Every year, from the time I was 8, I wished for a watch for christmas and every year I was told that I was too young to have a watch, that Santa would never give a watch to an 8 yr old. “But how old do I have to be, Mom?” My mom said that I would be old enough to have a watch when I was 12 yrs. old. So I waited patiently through 3 more christmas’s and on the 4th christmas, my present was a huge box sitting under the tree with my name on it. I couldn’t imagine what was in that box, but I knew it wasn’t a watch. Inside that huge box was a smaller box, and another inside that one, another one, six boxes in all, each fitting perfectly together. The smallest box contained my watch, the fulfullment of 4 yrs. of yearning. I thought of my mom looking for boxes that would fit perfectly inside each other and of her thinking that I was old enough and responsible enough to be worthy of owning a watch. Unfortunately, I don’t still have that watch; I lost it after 2 months.

  17. Nat -A VERY cool present. I can’t imagine why they felt the need to put store bought things inside it.

    Susan – Thanks. We shall see.

    Julia – Kewl beanz! Is your Dad’s book still in print/available? What’s it called?

    Skye – Thanks for visiting and leaving such a lovely comment.

    Judy – Ouch. I can only imagine how you must have felt when you lost the watch after only 2 months. What did your mother say? I remember my first watch, too — about the same age as you. I was so proud. It was a Timex with a black leather wrist strap. I had that watch forever — all through high school and university. Crazy isn’t it that watches of all description are now available for a couple of bucks in the dollar store. They don’t even mean anything anymore. Kids have clocks in their cell phones and/or don’t care what time it is.

  18. Actually, his book is a really good read! I’m not kidding. He uses nice clear prose and tells the story directly, full of anecdotes.

    This is his most recent synopsis, written for a Korean war vets site:
    “This memoir takes the reader from Vancouver, to Montreal, to Fort Lewis Washington, on to Korea, over to Japan and back to Korea. It centers on a very unglamorous mobile laundry and bath unit (MLBU.) The author describes the challenges faced in the field, the humour and the pathos. Called the “Chinese Dragoons” by the infantry, the MLBU provided one of the few luxuries available to troops in the field – a shower and a change of clothes. Since the unit was well forward in the brigade sector, it was positioned to capture the first prisoners of war in 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group, to the annoyance of the combat arms. Those who are unfamiliar with Korea, or with an army in the field, should enjoy the exposure offered by the book.”

    You can order it direct from the publisher at
    M*L*B*U; Full Monty In Korea by Bob Ringma. Soft cover/6×9/170 pages/21 photos. ISBN 894263-85-5 $ 19.95 from General Store Publishing House, 499 O’Brien Road, Renfrew, Ontario, Canada, K7V 4A6; Tel. Toll Free 1-800-465-6072