The holiday season has begun and seeing gift boxes and advertisements in the newspaper and on TV and social media, I was reminded of the Mysterious Little Brown Cardboard Box story in my family business memoir, No Bunk, Just BS (Business Sense).
The Mystery Begins
It was the spring of 1961 and my mother was recovering from experimental lung surgery to cure her Tuberculosis. When I returned from school my mother asked me if I would drive her on an errand for my father. I was excited to be her chauffer because I had recently acquired my driver’s license and loved any reason to drive.
We lived in River Forest, which is a suburb 11 miles west of downtown Chicago, and traffic was not as congested as it is now. I drove my mother to South Michigan Avenue and 12th Street, which was shabby area at that time. I made a U-turn and parked on the east side of the street, as my mother requested. She pointed out a dilapidated office building across the street and said, “I am going into that building and will be back in a few minutes. Lock the doors.”
“We Were Never Here.”
I locked the car doors and watched her walk across the street to the dilapidated office building. Ten minutes later, I was relieved to see my mother emerged from the building. She was protectively holding a little brown cardboard box in her hands. She safely crossed the street and returned to the passenger seat of our car. Then she looked at me and instructively said, “Sheila, we were never here.”
I unquestioningly replied, “Yes, mother, we were never here.”
As we drove home we chatted about school and my friends, but we did not discuss the little brown cardboard box that my mother was protectively holding in her lap.
The Mysterious Package
When we arrived home, my mother put the little brown cardboard box on the hat shelf in my father’s coat closet in our foyer.
When my father arrived home I was eager to hear what he had to say about the box. All he said was, “Sylvia, did you get the package?”
“It is on the hat shelf in your coat closet, Al.” My mother replied. Nothing was mentioned about the little brown cardboard box at dinner. The next morning, I ate breakfast with my father, but nothing was said about the secret on his hat shelf. As my father prepared to leave for his office before I left for school, he removed his hat, coat, and the little brown box from his coat closet. He kissed my mother and me good-bye and went out the front door, protectively holding the little brown cardboard box.
The mysterious little brown cardboard box was not mentioned again until 1967. My parents had invited Mr. and Mrs. Lehr, who were business customers and friends to my wedding. After the wedding my husband, my parents, and I were relieved and delighted that Mr. Lehr had also brought his camera and took many special photos that the professional photographer missed.
Wedding Photos & Secret
A few weeks after the wedding, we all looked through pictures that Mr. Lehr sent. I was surprised when my mother said, “Your father and I were thrilled that Mr. and Mrs. Lehr were able to attend your wedding for another reason besides taking these photos.”
Then she paused and said, “Do you remember the errand to pick up the little brown cardboard box when you were a sophomore in high school?”
“Of course I remember the errand, the little brown cardboard box, and you telling me we were never there.” I replied.
“Would you like to know what was in the box?” My mother teased.
“Absolutely!” I answered.
“That little brown cardboard box contained experimental (not yet approved by the FDA) breast cancer medicine,” my mother explained. “Your father was able purchase the medicine from that company on Michigan Avenue because they used our Lab-Line equipment. After we picked up the medicine, you father shipped it to Mr. and Mrs. Lehr; it was the cure for Mrs. Lehr’s breast cancer, which saved her life!”
Something to Think About
I realized that my father, mother, and I had kept a significant secret, my parents had taken a huge risk to procure the experimental cancer medicine, and send it in the little brown box to Mrs. Lehr with the hope that it would cure her breast cancer, and save her life.
Remember: We all can give gifts of kindness. Your gifts may not be a secret or a mystery. However, you never know when your gifts might save a person’s life, offer happiness and comfort, and/or bring a smile to someone’s heart.
Sometimes the greatest gifts come in the smallest boxes!
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