A special Valentine's box for a special child
Did you ever make a Valentine's box? In elementary school we made one every year out of cigar boxes. Your Valentine’s box was almost as big a deal as your lunch box. It identified you.
When my oldest brother, Tommy, was in the fifth grade, his teacher announced they were going to have a “Valentine’s Day contest for most clever box." Tommy, a unique combination of natural athlete, “brain” and not just shy but seemingly excruciatingly so, turned to our mother who was only too delighted to take on the task. She was a unique combination of athlete, artist and one other thing: She loved Tommy something special. So as she did with most everything she created, she set about making this box, putting into it her whole heart…and maybe something more.
Tommy wasn’t there when Mama made the box, but my older sister, Canice, who was closest to Tommy in age, was, and she remembers watching Mother move with great fascination.
“She created it with such a childlike joy,” Canice recalls and, amazingly enough, still describes the creation in vivid details. “It was like the size of a work boot box, only deeper and more square. Mother covered it in pink construction paper, then cut out red hearts of all sizes and glued them on the side and top. Around the edges, she added a different color pink crepe paper like ribbon, twisted gently…then out of wire or maybe pipe cleaners, she made a big heart and covered it with red crape paper…somehow attached an arrow and a small card to it that said ‘Have Heart Will Travel.’”
“I’ll never forget how cool the box was,” Canice said, “but I thought to myself, ‘those teachers will never believe that my brother made that box.’"
Whether they did or didn’t, Tommy won the contest.
Canice, however, thought there was a down side, maybe two, that no one had anticipated—including Tommy. For Tommy, it seemed, winning was wonderful so long as it was on the track field or the baseball diamond. But winning in this context gave him individual attention, and for someone as shy as he was, this wasn’t so wonderful. Add to this another possible component (especially in the '50s): The box was too beautiful for a young boy, Canice said. “To tell ya the truth, I was a bit embarrassed for Tommy.”
As it turned out, Tommy and his heart WOULD travel, to Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., where he set new school records running the 880 (1:59.9) and in the mile (4:27.6); and to Rice University with a track scholarship, but he got off track with amphetamines. From there, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital in Dallas, where one doctor said, “Tommy is exquisitely sensitive."
Many miles and years later, that same doctor would recall something that Mother had said to him. Something he thought was “wonderful, but chilling,” he told me.
“Tommy," Mama had said, “was my favorite blossom in my rose garden of children.”
Tommy now lives in the woods of east Texas. But every six months or so, he’s got to move again, like a bird’s got to fly. Sometimes I wonder if like Tommy, the box traveled, too, and where it is today.
Perhaps it survived several garage sales and finally landed on someone’s dresser. Perhaps it’s being used as a jewelry box or a sewing kit. I’d like to think that the box rests in a window seat somewhere and at certain times of the day, receives light. Sometimes I picture it chock-full of Valentine’s cards collected over years of time, that the top can’t completely close but hovers gentle like atop all sizes and shapes. Or I’ll see it sitting empty, just being a box and beautiful.
Wherever it is — whether full or empty — surely its owner sees that the creator of that box…put a lot of love in it.