Friday, March 27, 2020

The Red Box

My friend, Amy's grandparents lived in a big farmhouse in small town in Indiana, that nobody would know it's name. I always thought the farmhouse was scary.

She invited me to sleep over there when we were in junior high. This was a surprise because she never talked much about where she lived. She was there for a few years with her mother and something have happened to her Dad.
Amy was cute, smart and quiet. All the things I was not. I was awkward, not so smart and sometimes people told me I talked too much. Maybe I still do. 

Now I am grown up, I drive a rental car with a GPS. I found myself getting lost twice and not quite trusting the map on the dashboard. I stopped at a gas station to get redirected by an attendant who looks like he might still be in elementary school. No help there. Fortified, I ordered a super large soft drink, donuts in plastic bag and candy. I am on the way to Amy's.

As I munch and sang an old song, I remembered the sleepover. My parents dropped me off looking slightly concerned by the remote old farmhouse. "Don't worry. All is fine." I took my gear and gave a grand wave from the porch almost falling off in my eagerness to get rid of them.

Of course they stayed until the door opened with a big creeking noise and I tried to turn and get away but a calloused hand caught my shoulder and dragged me inside.

This was Amy's Granddad and he was big and scary. (I told you I talked too much) but when he was dragging me I couldn't even say, "where's Amy?"

As it turned out, she was by the fire with her grandmother. Grandmother Tess. This story is about her and her Red Box. Of course I didn't see it that night. Grandma Tess had cookies and not chocolate for us after a fried chicken dinner. Then we went up to Amy's room and did important things like telling secrets to each other. Talking about teachers and jumping up and down on the twin beds.

Grandma Tess must have heard us because she just opened the door and put her finger to her lip. We got to bed snuggling under the coverlets filled with chicken feathers. 

So now here I was almost at the farmhouse. Why was I here? Simple because my friend, Amy texted me to tell me her grandmother had died and that she couldn't face it without me.

I almost turned around but then I didn't, because Amy and I had been friends and kept in touch like forever. It wasn't a superficial relationship. She knew things about me no one else knew. And I thought I knew her but I was in for some surprises especially the Red Box but that didn't come up until later.

I stopped the car. Shook a few crumbs off my clothes, popped the trunk, and grabbed my bag. It was like replay. I felt nervous hoping her Granddad's ghost wasn't around. The door still squeaked and so did I. "Eeeeeeeek... " I said, as puzzled Amy stood before me.

"Caffeine!" I said and other stuff. "Come on in," she said. "I am so glad you came." She took out a Kleenex and I could see she was in grief. I'm so sorry about Grandmother Tess. The kitchen had been updated. We sat and talked and I won't bore you about all that but I just felt it was right for me to come.

Over ice cream, I know, it was chocolate ripple, she gave her news. "I can't believe it " she said. She left me this house. "So generous."

"Yes," I said, as a trickle of ice cream fell out of my mouth. She laughed at me. "You always were one for sweets." The next morning I said. "I am ready to help you here." So I got into the kitchen and you can't believe how many canned things she had put up were there.

Amy had disappeared into Grandma's bedroom. After a few hours I decided to see how she was doing. I opened the door Amy was sitting on the floor sobbing her heart out and between her legs there was a large Red Box.  I approached carefully. My friend seemed to be having a breakdown. She didn't notice me. I touched her shoulder and she only said the Red Box. "Do you want me to call a doctor, dial 911 or bring you a Coke?"

She choked one last sob and started to laugh. I got down on the floor and went along. Soon we were having histerics together and the Red Box just sitting there. I put out my arm and pulled it between us, then lifted the lid. "It's empty!" I said, of course it was, as we emptied it that Christmas.

I knew the Christmas she meant. It was the one that almost everyone was broke. Farmers at least had food. "Tell me about this Red Box," I said handing us both cokes.

Here is what happened. We were living here that awful year. My mother had no work. Grandma had her chickens and she sold the eggs. My Grandfather worked and worked but the crops were bad. I never knew people could be so poor and scared of their shadows.

People came knocking on our door saying they would take any kind of work. My grandfather just sent them away but I would see Grandma Tess go for a walk with her basket, and I just knew she was giving some of them our eggs, and I felt a little mad. Maybe we would not have enough. 

How little I knew. She started to sniffle.

It was three weeks before Christmas and I opened the door and here was this cardboard box and inside Grandma Tess opened it. "How lovely," she said. "I am going to fill this right to the top with presents for everyone."

She was so happy that she started to do a little dance and sang "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." You have to understand that my grandmother was a real Christian who put what she believed into action. She visited the sick. She was always baking a little extra cake of biscuits for someone.

Of course that year things had slowed down because she didn't have all her supplies. No one had. That is why I left her singing with the Red Box thinking that everyone was going a bit crazy. And we were. But, strange things started happening. I would hear the front door. Soft whispers. Then quiet. It was the door that made me think I was cracking up. I would fall back dreaming of chocolate cake with butter cream icing. 

In the morning, I would go down and have cereal with no butter and go to school with a slice of bread and an old apple.

Grandma Tess was mysterious in those weeks. She would have a neighbor take her to see the same sick friend who had been dying the week before and most suspiciously, she put a pretty red scarf around her worn coat. The red scarf meant she was up to something. I was afraid she had started a life of crime.

I tried to tell my mother and she burst out laughing. Your grandmother is the most generous woman in the world. Who else would take all that on, after he left her, the way he did. And that was all she would say.

The red scarf disappeared. I knew it was made of Scottish wool and one of her most cherished items. But Grandma's happiness continued and it was contagious. We all just stopped being afraid.

People from church brought in a large Christmas tree and we made popcorn chains and got out ornaments. The radio was turned on and we sang along and got merry. The fire made a special glow. I felt warm inside and out.

It was only a week to Christmas, Grandma Tessa looked tired. I even saw her sleep in the afternoon with her Bible on her lap. The night before Christmas, we had chicken soup and there were no presents under the tree. "Never mind, my dear," my mother said, "we have each other."

Well, I did mind but did not voice anything out loud. Early the next morning, I did smell something baking. When I walked into the kitchen, there was this Red Box and beside it was a big chocolate cake with icing. "Merry Christmas!" Grandma said, "Please take the Red Box and put it under the tree." 

By the time Amy finished, I was crying like a baby.

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