Parcel Post

Kliponius-Cardboard-box-packageOne day many years ago, my mother found a pale green postcard in our mailbox. She glanced at the front, frowned, flipped it over and read the back.  Something about it was not right.

The size was right. The font looked right. The heft of the cardstock felt right. All of these things indicated an official notification from the U.S. Post Office. Everything was right but the addressee. The card was addressed to my brother Jim, who at the time had just turned seven.

The card said a parcel waited 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 remain a mystery until we picked it up.

When my father got home, my mother asked, “What do you think?”

“I dunno,” he replied, taking off his work boots.

“It looks suspicious,” she said, “who would send a parcel to a child?”

My dad finished her sentence. “…and not address it to his parents.”

But Jim wasn’t suspicious at all. He bounced like a puppy. “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.”

Jim collapsed and flopped like a crappie on the kitchen floor. “WHY!!!!!” he howled.

“Is that meatloaf?” dad asked, ignoring him.

“Is it Monday?” mom asked, knowing full well what day it was.

“It is,” he said. He liked meatloaf.

Jim didn’t like meatloaf. He wailed throughout supper and continued on and off all week. Waiting until Saturday was too much for a child to bear.

When he wasn’t wailing, Jim studied the card. Mother had pinned it to an old cork board in the kitchen and Jim stood eye-level to it on a shaky kitchen chair, hoping that by willpower and concentration, he could uncover a new revelation that his previous hours of scrutiny had been unable to detect.

“Could it be a dog?” he wondered out loud.

“People don’t mail dogs,” mom told him.

“Could they mail a turtle?”

My mother thought about it as she added milk to a cake mix, “Unlikely,” she said, “but possible.”

“Then it could be a turtle?”

She hesitated before moving the mixing bowl to the blender. “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 dad got home, mom took him aside. “Jim has been telling people he wants a pet. You don’t think some poor animal is suffering at the post office?”

Dad sighed and shook his head. “We will have to wait to find out.”

On Saturday morning, my brother got up and wolfed down a bowl of Cheerios, long before the winter sun squinted over the horizon.  While he was eating, it struck him.

Gazing at the back of the Cheerios box then at the postcard on the bulletin board, he knew instantly what was waiting for him at the post office.

He bounded up the stairs.

“I know what it is!” he announced at the door of my parent’s bedroom.

“Go back to bed,” my father growled.


“That would come in the regular mail,” my mom said, knowing all about promotional trinkets that cereal companies pawned off on kids.

“Nuh-uh,” my brother said, “a rocket-car wouldn’t fit through the mail-slot.”

“The kid has 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 called 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 sibling rivalry and they both went quiet for a moment.

“Oh…” he said.

An hour later, our battered blue Plymouth returned to the curb and my Dad lugged a huge box through the front door and set it ceremoniously on the dining room table.

As the family gathered around it, my mother announced that before she 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!!”

Mother held her ground. She knew the mysterious box had given her the leverage to extract at least a reluctant promise to share.

Once the promise was given, my mother snipped the twine and Jim attacked the box. He clawed madly at the packaging, sending shreds of paper whirling into the air and settling like leaves on the dining room floor.

He tried to rip open cardboard lid but it was held by staples. It took Dad a few minutes and trip to the garage for a screwdriver to open it.

As Dad pulled aside the layers of tissue paper, the box revealed…… towels and a note.

The note was from our great aunts in Chippewa Falls Wisconsin, who concluded after their recent visit, that we needed a new set of towels. In light of the fact that my brother had recently celebrated his birthday, they addressed the parcel to him.

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 did they find wrong with the towels we have?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Dad said, “but I doubt we will have a problem sharing.”

Author: Almost Iowa

38 thoughts on “Parcel Post”

  1. As a boy, my husband ordered a squirrel monkey via the mail. He was old enough to figure out the complexities of a money order, he remembers. The box arrived to his house while he was in school. His unsuspecting mother didn’t open the box and didn’t know what was in it until he got home. After the initial shock wore off of what he had done, he was allowed to keep the monkey. Mr. Chips was his name. And I totally expected something like this to be waiting for little bro. Towels are just the worst! I’m wailing in sympathy for the little guy!

    1. As a boy, my husband ordered a squirrel monkey via the mail.

      Oh! Oh! I’m going to do that! What a wonderful idea! I won’t tell the Mrs it was yours. 🙂

      That is the kind of thing I would have pulled if I had thought of it.

    2. I am sitting here absolutely broken-hearted. Had I known this was possible, I, too, would have been the proud owner of a squirrel monkey. For some reason, despite their mistreatment of their children, my parents allowed all pets and mistreated none.

      I’m practically weeping now with my lost opportunity:
      “Goodbye, Ms. Chips!”

  2. That is SO funny!! My great-aunts would TOTALLY do something like that. Practical gifts coupled with someone’s birthday followed by inevitable child disappointment. Well told!!

    1. They just don’t make great-aunts like they used to. These ladies were something straight out of Arsenic and Old Lace. They lived together in a big Victorian house in the little Wisconsin town of Chippewa Falls. Visiting them was like stepping back into the 19th century.

      1. No kidding. Mine are worthy of a post. It’s one of those grntly boiling but not ready to serve 🙂

        Love your ‘stuff’!!

      2. Those aunts should have been fed arsenic. No one is that old that they don’t know better than to give towels to a child. Your poor brother. I felt the pain of his disappointment. Did your folks not do anything special for him to help ease the let-down?

        That siblings-must-share thing sucks. I get why, but it still sucks. I instituted a first-day rule: You don’t gotta share on day 1 if you don’t wanna. It is YOUR gift, after all.

        I looked for the rocket car and couldn’t find it, but found a great Cheerios moon rocket kit demo on YouTube, so the search had a nice payoff : )

        1. Did your folks not do anything special for him to help ease the let-down?

          They were not fans of Dr. Spock. No one in our neighborhood was. The purpose of disappointment and pain was to make us stronger…so we got a lot of it. 🙂

          As for sharing, I always suspected my parents were closet socialists. 🙂

          1. Thanks to you, A.I., I see my childhood in a whole new light. My parents saw the world as cruel, and thus thought that the best way to prepare their weakest children against it was to treat them cruelly, to toughen them up.

            Not a strategy I would choose, and not one that biology is in favor of, as it appears epigenetics has now demonstrated with the patterns of autoimmune disease development closely distributed along with childhood abuse, but we can’t fault abusive parents for their stern commitment to loving their offspring so much that they resist ever demonstrating it.

            (Just let me pause a moment here. I’m busy smugly self-congratulating for those paragraphs above–the ending of that last sentence, in particular.)

            I would include never allowing a moment of delight in opening a personal gift and feeling it was yours in the bag of tricks of this parenting style–it would be a step shy of snatching the gift away and hiding it forever, and two steps from stomping on it before the streaming eyes of the birthday girl–but in YOUR parents case, I’m sure your parents must have let you know you were loved through more than stern disappointment. Otherwise, your amusing sometimes-snark would be bitterly unfunny griping.

            (Uh– Wa-ait a minute… Did I just insult… moi?)

            1. I have traveled a bit and find that my parent’s attitude is far more common in the world than my own. Most people live harsher lives than we do. It is why stoicism is a much more desirable trait in the developing world than empathy.

              As for sharing, this was a time of big families and limited means, the oldest were more apt to get presents because being the oldest, there were logically fewer of them. The youngest got less because not only were they logically more numerous, but the grandparents, and aunts and uncles (with their own burgeoning families) suffered greatly from giving fatigue.

              This left the parents with a decision, should we allow the older ones to accumulate things and suffer the caterwauling of the more numerous younger ones or should we impose sharing and suffer the caterwauling of the less numerous older ones?

              The decision pivoted on the question – how loud could the older ones howl?

              1. Yes, well, all I can say is that my parents didn’t give a whit for our self-esteem. We were cared for and loved but we had tough rules and strict no BS parenting. The concept of negotiating or arguing with my parents? Unfathomable. Praise was meted out sparingly but when deserved, it came….sparingly. I don’t ever remember being told I was special, because …..newsflash…..I wasn’t, particularly. Look, I don’t have all the answers either, not by a long shot, but I think we do our kids a disservice by sheltering them from life’s challenges and treating everything they accomplish as equivalent to the cure for cancer. I was at a ball game recently where the incessant “good job! good job!” every time a kid managed to walk to base without falling all over themselves seemed to be met with complete indifference by the kids. They seemed immune to all the praise. Man, when my father gave a compliment, we walked on air for days. Blathering on here, sorry.

                1. My dad grew up poor and fatherless during the depression. As soon as he was able, he enlisted in the CCC’s to support his mother and brothers.

                  In early 1942, he joined the army and while other guys drank and gambled their money away, his was sent home. A lot of teenage soldiers had their pay sent home. During the Battle of Manila, he lost all of his army buddies. He missed the battle because of a tropical illness that took the sight from one eye as well as his sense of smell and taste.

                  In 1953, he lost his wife, my mother. This was not a man who doled out praise.

                  One day when we were rowing home after spending the day on a lake, he let the boat glide to a stop and without saying a word, motioned for me to take the oars. I didn’t know anything about rowing, I was just a little kid, not even old enough for school.

                  For a while, he put his hands over mine until I learned the rhythm of oars then he sat back and quietly smoked a cigarette. It was dark by the time we made it to shore and I had to navigate by the murmur of waves against the dock.

                  Not a word was spoken – but I understood everything. The man loved and trusted me and I could count on him to teach me the things I needed to know.

                  1. Greg, promise me you will make a post out of this exquisitely beautiful story. It shouldn’t be relegated to the comments section. It’s one of the best things I’ve read in the blogosphere in ages. Please. XXX

            2. as it appears epigenetics has now demonstrated with the patterns of autoimmune disease development closely distributed along with childhood abuse

              A slight caveat, “autoimmune disease development closely distributed along with” stress. Abuse is simply one form of stress and I would distinguish between a parent who “toughens up” a kid and one who abuses them. Being tough gives one a greater ability to cope with stress. In other words, the more healthy stress you handle, the greater the level of stress is required to cause damage.

  3. Love it! Your writing always has me so engaged and just waiting for the “punch” at the end. 🙂 So your creative mind makes up these stories right? Or is this one true? You always have me guessing..

        1. “AWESOMER”

          I would have gotten my knuckles rapped with a ruler if I said that in school. (he looks cautiously around to make sure there are no nuns about)

            1. Don’t forget being lifted off the ground by your ears. I used to feel abused by nuns until it dawned on me what it meant to have 56 kids in classroom. Now I realize it was the nuns who were abused.

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