The Treasure Box: Memories of My Father . . . by Laura Moehrle

I scurried along beside my daddy as we made our way down the snow-covered street. My feet, clad in red rubber boots took two steps for each one of his. Daddy’s faded blue jeans were shoved into his big black boots which made much huge prints in the snow. Dark curls peaked under his black wool hat and a few snowflakes settled into his beard. My own blond hair was pulled back into a pony tail and tucked under my red knitted hat. 

The earth was blanketed in white while the cloudy sky promised more snow to come. The whole world was empty; quietly hibernating. We were the only ones out and about on that cold December morning. Just my daddy and me. Later that night the whole world would come alive with celebrations as 1971 came to a close, but that morning I had my daddy and the whole world all to myself.

It may have been New Year’s Eve to everyone else, but, to me it was special for a different reason.

“What are you going to buy me for my birthday?” I asked, my breath making little puffs of smoke as I spoke.

“I was thinking about a pair of ice skates,” Daddy said, grinning at me. “Would you like that?”

“Yeah!” I said eagerly. Daddy was always coming up with neat birthday and Christmas presents.

I had never been on ice skates, but I had watched my big brother skate with his friends on the lake. Daddy had taken us roller skating once and that was fun. So I knew that ice skating had to be fun, too.

The store was just a little ways from our house. Colorful pictures of Santa and snowmen decorated the frost covered windows. Excitement built up in my chest. This was almost as good as Christmas morning. A bell jingled on the door as we stepped inside. It was warm so daddy undid my coat and I took off my mittens. The store was empty expect for a gray haired lady standing behind the counter.

“May I help you?” She asked in a friendly tone.

Daddy said that we were interested in a pair of ice skates for me.

The lady frowned and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but the skates are all gone. I don’t believe we’ll be getting any more in either.”

“You’ve sold out already? But winter’s only just started!” Daddy exclaimed.

The lady sighed and said, “I know. They were big sellers this past Christmas.”

My lip quivered. I tried very hard not to cry. Daddy bent down to me, resting his big calloused hands on his knees. He looked as disappointed as I was. “I’m sorry, Kitten. Maybe next year.”

I nodded, but I couldn’t understand who had taken all the skates. It wasn’t fair!

Daddy took my small hand in his and said, “Come on, let’s find you another birthday present.”

He led me to the toy section. The shelves were line with: baby dolls, Barbie Dolls, Easy Bake Ovens, Lego building blocks, board games and cars. I looked at toy typewriters, record players and even a toy telephone that really talked. But nothing seemed special enough for a fifth birthday. After all, turning five was big, a whole hand. I would be going to school in the fall, just like my brother. I could spell my own name. I could reach the knob on our front door. I could even get my own drinks from the kitchen sink if I stood on a chair. I couldn’t do those things last year. Yes, turning five was much too important a birthday to settle for a silly toy as a gift.

“How about this?” Daddy had picked up a pink metal box from the shelf. “You can keep all your special treasure in here. It even has a lock, see?”

I shoved my thumb into my mouth and studied the little box. It was pretty and would be perfect to keep things in. And the lock would keep my brother out.

“Okay,” I said. I took my thumb out of my mouth and smiled. True, it wasn’t as neat as ice skates, but even my brother didn’t have his own special treasure box with a lock.

He handed it to me. I opened it up and peered inside, imagining all the things that I would keep there. Two tiny silver keys were fastened to the inside of the lid. Mommy and Daddy had keys to the car and our house. My brother had a key for the lock on his bike. Now I had keys, too, just like a big person. I really was growing up.

Daddy pulled the new black billfold he gotten for Christmas out of his pocket and paid the lady. She put it in a paper sack and wished me a happy birthday. I put my mittens back on and eagerly reached for the bag.

“What do you say?” Daddy said in a stern voice. Good manners were important, even on birthdays.

I said “thank you” and proudly carried my treasure box home, clutching it close to my chest.

At first the box held rings from Cracker Jack boxes, Bazooka Bubble gum comic strips, pretty rocks, and shells from the beach in South Haven on Lake Michigan.

As time went by, those treasures were replaced by other treasures: notes from friends at school dealing mostly with who had crushes on whom, letters my mother had sent me while I’d been at camp, photographs of my dog that I had taken with my first camera and diaries where I’d written my about my worries and private thoughts. The lock worked at keeping my brother, and later on my little sister, out of my things. I also decorated the outside of the box with funny stickers I had accumulated over the years.

Now, forty- five years later, the little box is a bit rusty, but still pink. A sticker of John Travolta from the movie Grease still adorns the front along with one of Tweety Bird. Most of the other stickers have peeled off or are curling at their corners. The lid no longer clamps down and the lock broke many years ago. It still holds my special treasures:  birthday cards from my parents and grandparents, Valentine cards from children at the day care where I worked, a large flat rock from a hiking trip along Canada’s Bruce Trail, some Girl Scout patches and merit badges. There is even a hand carved barrette that my dad made for me when I was ten.

Most importantly, though, the box holds memories of my father: dressed in jeans and t-shirts, or cable knit sweaters when it was cold, his bright sparkling blue eye, his mischievous sense of humor, and his big strong arms that carried me when I was just too tired to walk.

I’ve had many wonder birthday gifts since, but that little treasure box will always be a favorite. (Incidentally I did get ice skates the following Christmas, just before I turned six.) 

_____

Laura has dreamed of becoming a writer ever since she was a little girl. She recently quit her retail job so that she could fulfill that dream and is currently working on a memoir. She has written several essays, short stories and entered competitions — winning two honorable mentions.

Read stories about other fathers here and here.