One day many years ago, my mother found a pale green postcard in our mailbox. She glanced at the front, frowned, flipped it over, read the back, scowled and tossed it aside.
Something about it was not right.
The size was right. The font was right. The weight of the cardstock was right. All of these things indicated an official notification from the U.S. Post Office. Everything was right but the name on the address. It was to my brother Jim, who at the time had just turned seven.
The card said a parcel was waiting for him at the main Post Office in downtown Saint Paul. What it did not say was who sent it or what it was. Those things would have to remain a mystery until we picked it up.
When my father got home, my mother waved the card in front of his nose while he took off his boots.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“I dunno,” he replied.
“It looks suspicious,” she said, “who would send a parcel to a child?”
“...and not address it to his parents,” dad said, finishing her sentence.
But Jim wasn’t suspicious at all. He bounced like a puppy with a new chew toy. “Let's go get it!” he cried.
Dad turned his gaze from the postcard to the meatloaf cooling on top of the stove. “The Post Office is closed,” he said, “We will have to wait until Saturday.”
In a single sentence, my father employed two of the most devastating words in the English language: wait and Saturday.
Jim collapsed like he had been shot and flopped like a crappie on the kitchen floor. “WHY!!!!!” he howled.
“Is that meatloaf?” dad asked, ignoring him.
“It is Monday, isn’t it?” mom said, knowing full well what day it was.
“It is,” he said. He liked meatloaf.
Jim didn’t like meatloaf. He continued to wail on the kitchen floor all through supper and wailed on and off, all through the week.
Waiting until Saturday was too much for him to bear.
When he wasn’t wailing, Jim climbed on a chair to get eye-level with the old cork bulletin board where we pinned up bills and notices for Pancake Breakfasts. There he stood and stared endlessly at the card, hoping that by applying willpower and concentration, he could uncover a new revelation about it that previous hours of scrutiny had been unable to detect.
As he studied the card, he projected every desire that a young boy might have into the mysterious box at the post office.
“Could it be a dog?” he asked on Wednesday. He always wanted a dog.
“People don’t mail dogs,” mom told him.
“Could they mail a turtle?”
My mother thought about it as she added milk to the cake mix, “Unlikely,” she said, “but possible.”
“Then it could be a turtle?”
She hesitated before lowering the blender blades into the mixing bowl. “Did you tell anybody you wanted a turtle?”
“No,” my brother said, “but I told grandpa I wanted a dog.”
Shouting over the blender, she said, “Grandpa would just bring it over. People mail things from a distance. Who do you know who lives a long way away?”
That required thought.
When my dad got home, mom spoke to him quietly. Still we hear what they were saying.
“Jim has been telling people he wants a pet. You don’t think there is some poor animal at the post office?”
Dad sighed and shook his head. “We wait until Saturday, that’s final.”
On Saturday morning before the winter sun squinted over the horizon, my brother got up and wolfed down a bowl of Cheerios
While he was eating his cereal, it hit him.
He looked at the back of the Cheerios box, then at the postcard on the bulletin board and instantly knew what was waiting for him at the post office.
In those days you could market anything to a kid. If a kid believed that nagging his parents to buy Cheerios would yield some extraordinary reward then that was a box of cereal sold.
Marketing mission accomplished.
Jim raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
“I know what it is!” he announced at the door of my parent’s bedroom.
“Go back to bed,” my father growled.
“IT’S A ROCKET-CAR!”
“That would come in the regular mail,” my mom said. She knew all about promotional trinkets that advertisers pawned off on kids.
“Nuh-uh,” my brother said, “a rocket-car wouldn’t fit through the mail-slot.”
“The kid got a point,” dad said. “I’ve been wondering about that box too. It’s gotta be big.”
“Of course, it’s big,” my brother cried, “it’s a ROCKET-CAR!”
The old man came out of the bedroom and headed for the bathroom,. “Now, he’s got me curious,” he said, calling back over his shoulder.
A moment later, mom plodded out of the bedroom and slipped into the bathroom to talk to dad. My parents always thought they were talking in private but our house was too small for that.
“Jack, don’t open it until you get home,” We heard her whisper.
He asked why.
She then said something about rivalry and they both went quiet for a moment.
“Oh...” he said.
An hour later, our battered blue plymouth returned to it’s berth and my Dad lugged a huge box into the house and set it ceremoniously on the dining room table.
As the family gathered around it, my mother announced that before she cut one strand of twine or removed a single layer of packing paper that everyone had to agree that the contents of the box - were going to SHARED!!
“WHY!!” my brother screamed, “it’s my rocket-car!!”
My mother held her ground. She knew the power of the mysterious box gave her the leverage she needed to extract even a reluctant promise to share.
Once the promise was given, my mother snipped the twine.
Jim attacked the box, clawing madly at the package, sending shreds of paper whirling into the air to settle like leaves on the dining room floor.
He tried to part the cardboard lid but the stables were too strong. It took dad’s strength for that.
Dad then pulled aside a layer of tissue paper revealing...... towels.
The box contained a set of green terry-cloth bath towels, along with hand towels, matching washcloths and a note from my mother’s maiden aunts in Chippewa Falls Wisconsin. The note, addressed to my mother, explained that after their recent visit, they concluded that we needed a new set of towels. In light of the fact that my brother had recently celebrated a birthday, they addressed the parcel to him.
Wouldn’t that be a treat?
The shock! The horror! The agony! My brother’s face melted into a mask of devastating disappointment.
“Towels!” he cried, “who would send a kid TOWELS!!”
A good question.
Mom looked a little hurt. “What was wrong with our towels?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Dad said, “but I doubt we will have a problem sharing.”
This week's challenge: tell us a family story.
While our Gather family is still gathering itself together, we can let our hair down a bit. This week, let's share funny stories about our parents and siblings. In other words, let's get back at those who annoyed us terribly during our most vulnerable years....