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The Boxes

Updated on July 4, 2011

“If you want to do this by yourself just say so and we will gladly leave! I don’t have the wealth of time that you do to sort though each and every piece of paper Mom has hoarded all of these years and the landlord wants this property ready to show by the weekend.”

Tim had been pressing his luck with Traci since before the funeral and she was close to taking him up on his offer to leave her to do it all. Knowing the time constraints, she swallowed her anger and replied, “If you could put her clothes in the boxes and pack up the dishes for the Goodwill truck, I can finish in here and I’ll do the bathroom next.”

“All that you need to do,” Tim replied through clenched teeth, ”is turn the damned dresser drawers upside down, into the trash bags and you’d be finished. There are no hidden treasures, no life insurance policies, nothing of any importance or worth the time you’re spending on cleaning out the damned place!” He stormed from the room before his sister could respond. His wife shrugged her shoulders as if to say she agreed and followed close behind.

Their mother had died with no burial insurance, no savings and the only final wishes she had made known were that she wanted to be cremated and not buried. Because she was indigent, the county would have paid to have her remains cremated and put in a cardboard box. Pride kept her brother from allowing this and he had contacted the funeral home and made arrangements for a large service including a viewing of the body, an urn, scheduling for the burial of the urn at a later date and a service, and a large headstone. The people in attendance didn’t know their mother but they knew Tim and the room was filled to over flowing with flowers, plants, memorial statues, and the music he felt appropriate played softy in the background. He stood stoically at the entrance of the room and received the guests, shaking hands and accepting hugs and offers of condolence. Their mother’s body was displayed at the front of the room in an impressive white and gold coffin and pictures of her that had been retouched by a professional photographer were placed on an intricately carved mahogany table near the coffin. Accenting the photographs, in gilded frames, were more flower arrangements and candles that flickered and were reflected in the glass prisms of a huge lamp that projected just the right amount of light to showcase the photos.

The service was conducted by the minister of the church Tim attended infrequently but supported on regular basis. Their mother’s body did not resemble her at any point in her life. She was dressed in clothing and jewelry chosen and purchased by Tim’s wife and apparently she had also directed the styling of her hair and the application of her make-up. All in all Tim was pleased and Traci felt as if she had attended the funeral of a complete stranger.

She startled as her sister-in-law stuck her head in the bedroom to let her know they were leaving. “Really Traci, you need to just get this done and go home. We already reek of tobacco smoke and cat urine from being here and you are sitting on the carpet! You’ll have to burn your clothing!”

Traci relaxed a little after they were gone and decided to make her self a pot of coffee. She retrieved the small aluminum canister from the refrigerator and could hear her mother sharing the tip that coffee stayed fresh longer when kept refrigerated. She looked for bottled water and finding none decided if she must, she would settle for tap although she’d never understand how her mother could have used it. It hadn’t dawned on either of the kids that their mother had done without what they had grown to consider basic necessities of living. Her small monthly check had barely covered the rent, utilities and medicine, let alone food for herself and her two cats. Traci was admittedly miffed and her brother furious when they found a large box that contained all of the expensive and lavish gifts they had given her over the years. There were many designer outfits with matching accessories, broaches and earrings from the finest jeweler in the state, imported perfumes and lotions, just everything she could have wanted. Why a woman in her mid-sixties trolled around in blue-jeans and t-shirts they could only attribute to her obvious dementia. She had refused dining invitations at the country club or any of the finer restaurants and would ask if they could pick up the ingredients for dinner which she could prepare for them at her apartment. Of course they refused. No one was going to sit in that stuffy apartment that smelled of cigarettes and cat. She could have had fine furniture as well if only she had followed their wishes and given up smoking and the destructive animals. She wondered if her mother even realized how difficult she had made their lives with her odd ways and stubborn refusals to conform to their simple requests.

She hadn’t always been that way. It was she who introduced them each to the classics and taught them manners that, had they been invited, they cold have dined with royalty in full confidence. She was the one who made sure they went to college, made sure they were involved in their community and instilled the need for a religious connection. Well, she had called it a personal relationship with Jesus, of all things, but they knew well enough it meant being visible at a prominent church. Many business contacts had begun there for both Traci and her brother. Their mother had been right about that.

Traci poured herself a mug of coffee and took it back into the bedroom, having cleaned out the bathroom while it was brewing. Nothing much in there and it all fit into a plastic garbage bag. She gave up looking for a coaster and put the hot cup down on the dresser where it seemed to have sat a hundred times before from the telling ring and warped laminate. She pulled at the covers of the bed and was trying to get them into a large trash bag when she saw the edge of something sticking out slightly from under the bed. She bent down and tried to move it but found it to be stuck so she reluctantly resumed her position on the floor and pulled on it. It was a box, a quite heavy box and it was overfilled so that the top had wedged itself under the drooping box springs of the bed. Once removed from its confines, it fairly opened itself from the release of pressure. Traci pulled back the other flaps and began to empty the contents onto the floor by hand. Lifting and dumping it was beyond her strength. She was confused with the contents. Ragged old stuffed animals, cars with wheels missing, mountains of tablet paper with the alphabet crudely written upon the yellowed sheets … report cards, belonging to her and to her brother, childish scribbling with crayon on pages torn from coloring books.

The tears never had a chance to well up in her eyes they just flowed like a waterfall and sobs shook her body as she realized that this box was filled with every thing that had any thing to do with their childhoods. She found a clay elephant with a trunk so short it more readily resembled a rhinoceros with a deformed tusk. There were homemade cards, a badly decomposed bouquet of violet and dandelions, a Christmas decoration made from a picture of Tim glued to a round wooden ring that had been painted gold. Each treasured find said how proud her mother had been of them, how she cherished their accomplishments and how, in her opinion, nothing they did was without meaning and value.

She felt, rather than heard someone behind her and hurriedly turned to find her brother staring down at the pile on the floor. “What, why?” she was puzzled at his presence.

“My cell, I left my cell – do you see that?” He retrieved one of the cars from the pile holding it in his large hand. “This was my very first racing car! I played with it every day and when it broke Mom fashioned an axle from some piece of junk from that drawer of hers … you remember that drawer that had everything in the world in it?”

‘YES, yes and no matter where we lived there was always a drawer just like it and whenever we broke something or needed some part she would reach into that mess and pull out just exactly what was needed and somehow make it fit or make it run, whatever … Traci’s voice faltered.

“Whatever we needed,” Tim finished. "She was like that with us too. I would call her and she knew before I did that something was wrong, something was missing and she always tried to leave me with a plan, with options I could try." He was sitting on the floor, oblivious to his surroundings, going through the things that their mother had kept. This was her treasure, her reminders of what her life had been about, of what mattered most.

“Did you make that?”, asked Traci holding back a giggle.

“What, this elephant? Well, yes, I guess I did … they both dissolved into a pile of laughter and tears. “It’s a bit hideous, isn’t it?” he asked choking on his tears and the laughter that his sister hadn’t heard in too long a while.

“A BIT? Do you think? It is horrendous Tim, absolutely macabre"

“Oh it isn’t that bad, well look at this – this - what is this anyway, a painting? Did you paint it with your toes? Her brother was back, full tilt to the teasing jokester of their youth, ribbing her about every find they came across that held her signature makers mark.

An unusually warm October day found two people, a man and a woman dressed in blue-jeans and t-shirts walking slowly through the park.  It was a park where an older woman used to come frequently to feed the ducks and sit by the pond.  They walked all the way around the pond, bent in mischievous laughter at times and seemed to be sprinkling sand from a cardboard box as they walked.


Submit a Comment
  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    I'm very pleased to have brought some sunshine into your day. That is a most gracious compliment!

  • DuchessDuCaffeine profile image


    7 years ago from United States of America

    Even after death, she was able to 'fix' things for her children. I am thinking this was written by someone who is a mom and who appreciates her own mom. Thank you for lighting up my day. I'm in Washington state and we're having an overcast day with intermittant moments of sunshine -- and your story was one of them!

  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    Actually, God can bless you in a grocery store or a parking lot or anywhere else He chooses, but in the churches were the more affluent gather, it's not unusual for members to call on each others businesses when they need something done.

    I'm very happy you liked my little story and having a big old truck drive go,"Awww" is a very high compliment. Thanks to both of you!

  • workingmomwm profile image

    Mishael Austin Witty 

    7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

    I loved this story, and it even made my husband say, "Awww," when he read it!

    I have to ask, though, what kind of church did they go to that they were able to get all these business connections? I've never been blessed that way at church!

  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    Well, Wayne, that's a might fine compliment and just having you stop by is always a real treat! Thank-you!

  • Wayne Brown profile image

    Wayne Brown 

    7 years ago from Texas

    This is such a beautiful story and really showcases your ability to find those tender moments in life that we all can identify with in one way or the other. Up and beautiful for me on this one! Thanks much! WB

  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    Oh good Sharyn's Slant. I'm so pleased to see someone comment on the ending. That wrapped it all up for me and I was hoping that point would come across. Thank you for your most generous comment!

  • Sharyn's Slant profile image

    Sharon Smith 

    7 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

    Wow Pooh,

    This was sincerely awesome! I honestly felt a shimmer of goosebumps throughout my entire body as I read the ending. I don't say this often, if ever. "This was excellent!"


  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    LOL - that's good - if I provoked that strong of an emotion then I know I'm on the right track. Thanks for the compliment!

  • NotWiredThatWay profile image


    7 years ago from New York

    Powerful story Pooh. Too bad they couldn't have connected with their mother before she passed. You had me wanting to smack the son in the head toward the beginning of the story.

  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    Yes, sister that, teaching love by example is one of the most important things each of us can do! Thank-you

    stars, I always enjoy reading your hubs that are full of love and compassion!

  • stars439 profile image


    7 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

    Dear Phoenix : A Wonderful story, and thank you for sharing it. God Bless You.

  • sister that profile image

    sister that 

    7 years ago from So Cal

    Thank goodness for the love between this fictional brother and sister. That must be the greatest thing parents can teach I think. You know it might be fiction but I am guessing you just peered into my crystal ball.

  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    A mighty fine compliment, brother.

  • WillStarr profile image


    7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    Let me simply say that I wish I had written this.

  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    Babygirl - it's fiction, these characters are made up, it's all good.

    I'm sorry that you took it to heart so much that it made you feel bad about things you should have said and done. If anything, I was hoping this would give us all pause so we could say and do the things now, before it is too late for our loved ones.

    It is only one aspect of this story and is just an example of people who can become so wrapped up in their own busy and successful lives that they forget to pay real attention to those around them.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Makes me weep for the things I should have said and done and didn't

    Lovey story .The message she left brought you and your brother back to reality and back together.

    Too bad she died before you found it.

  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    that is a very nice compliment. We writers are greedy for emotions, aren't

  • SomewayOuttaHere profile image


    7 years ago from TheGreatGigInTheSky

    ...that was really, really good...brought a tear to my eye!

  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    mckbirdbks your words are so very encouraging - thanks so much.

  • Poohgranma profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from On the edge

    Thanks so much ladies for reading and for your observations.

  • mckbirdbks profile image


    7 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

    This is an incredible piece of writing. I felt like I was in the room.

  • profile image 

    7 years ago

    This is so beautiful. My mother-in-law passed a few years back and the same arguments and stress poured out of her four children. I remember going through her things and finding great memories. I truly believe that is what saved the kids from killing each other through a very emotional time in their lives. Thanks for the memory again.

  • QudsiaP1 profile image


    7 years ago

    Pooh, you have said it all and all too beautifully.

    In life there are very few things that actually hold any meaning and in this rat race often we forget what things really hold meaning. We wrap ourselves in foolish pretenses and forget those important to us. We get tired of those who depend on us and we choose to move forward rather than stopping and helping someone up.

    A hug for you my dear friend, this was well worth it.

  • Hyphenbird profile image

    Brenda Barnes 

    7 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

    In all of her confusion the mother kept the important tings front in life. I am so glad the "kids" found the box. What a great story!

  • K. Burns Darling profile image

    Kristen Burns-Darling 

    7 years ago from Orange County, California

    It isn't the money that we make, the wealth that we amass, the stature in the community that we achieve, but the imprints that we leave on the hearts and lives of those whom we love and who love us that truly matters....What a thoughtful, well written, absolutely awesomely beautiful reminder you have fashioned here, I truly believe that it is one of your very best!


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