During my husband’s 2006 bout with cancer a pen-pal sent me several boxes of things to sell as a way to help us out financially. The first box arrived on a day when David and I were both gone for what would be a long day at the cancer center where he was getting radiation treatments. The machines weren’t working correctly and we had a long wait ahead of us, when my cell phone rang.
“Mom, a big box was just delivered. Can I open it?” It was one of the children and I asked them what the return address was before answering.
“Some hardware store.”
I couldn’t imagine what it was, but I knew I hadn’t ordered anything from a hardware store.
“No, just wait until I get home,” I said, then promptly forgot all about it.
When David and I arrived home and stepped into the living room we were overwhelmed by the size of the box that awaited us. Besides the hardware store address I saw my pen-pal Jonna had added her name. Jonna and I had been corresponding sporadically for several years and she’d already told me she had her church members praying for us, several who had sent cards.
Inside that box, Jonna, who often sold on ebay, had packed up several items she thought might sell well on eBay, including vintage Barbie dolls, Barbie shoes, books, and assorted children’s boutique clothing items. Jonna, a Christian mother of several children herself, wanted to help me out in the one way that she could, and she most assuredly did. I sold the Barbies, used some of the books and took the clothes to my sister’s consignment shop. But even more than the financial help, her actions gave me a sense of being cared for, something I needed right then while I was caring for everyone else, including a sick husband. Jonna sent another box or two during those months, and so did her mother, who didn’t know me from Adam. Her mother sent Madeleine dolls from her collection, and they sold very well on eBay, helping us make yet another payment on mounting medical bills.
There were a lot of people who helped us out during that time; some family, some friends, some strangers. I realized recently that one of the reasons I wrote a cancer memoir was because it was a way I could thank those people. Jonna, with her helpful boxes, was not directly mentioned in the story, but I had included her in the acknowledgements. She taught me something during that time; that an unexpected box or package in the mail can bring great joy to the person on the receiving end. Since that time I have made an effort to do the same thing to people I care about. If I see something at a garage sale that reminds me of them, I buy it and send it to them. If I can’t afford it, I write them a letter or send them a card and tell them I thought of them that day. It is amazing what a little note or a package can do for a person, especially in times of trouble. I know that firsthand now.
Jonna hasn’t sent anything for a long time, though we have worked at maintaining at least a semblance of a pen-pal relationship. When she wrote that she was sending me a box “for whatever I wanted to do with it” it was because she was preparing for a move and knew I would know what to do with extra stuff. She is right about that; with my garage sales, my sister’s consignment store, and the trading and bartering I do with others, I am the ideal “go-to” person for anyone’s cast-offs. If I can’t use it myself, I most definitely know what to do with it. (Except for the bag of mis-matched socks and stretched-out underwear someone once gave us. I don’t know what to make of that gift. The same person gave us homemade pickles that were so old the liquid was gone.)
The box arrived at my sister’s consignment store a couple of days ago and when she called to tell me she couldn’t lift it from the ground, I sent Dan to go get it. It was heavy, almost 60 pounds, and when he brought it here I was waiting with scissors to open it. What kind of surprises did Jonna have in store for us? I relished the excitement, the little thrill I got at opening a surprise box.
When I opened the big box the first two things I spotted made a shiver go down my back;
I was transported back into the 70’s, when my two younger sisters, Angie and Jane, sat and played with these two dolls. Crissy was Jane’s doll, and Velvet was Angie’s. I used to have “doll shows” with these dolls! Jonna couldn’t have known any of this. What was the likelihood of her sending the same dolls that my little sisters played with?
I started wondering about those dolls. Who gave them to Angie and Jane? Our parents were poor and we didn’t own many dolls. Angie had “Angie doll” and Jane had “Susie Slicker,” but the only dolls I remembered owning myself were a homemade Raggedy Ann and a little rubber baby I buried in the chicken yard because it smelled like earwax.
Do Angie and Jane still own those dolls?
I could sell the dolls. Who doesn’t need a little extra money? And Jonna wouldn’t care if I did. But something tells me that there is more to this surprise box than meets the eye. It is not just coincidence that a friend from NY sent me the very dolls my little sisters played with. There were other things in the box; lots of books, which explains the weight, and some wonderful washable “Pull-Up” type underpants that I wish I’d had when my own children were being potty-trained. Those sell well on eBay and if my daughter doesn’t want them, I will sell them.
But those dolls.
Maybe it is time to pack up a surprise for someone and mail it.