The Cardboard Box

By Alan Haskvitz

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It wasn’t a very big cardboard box; maybe a foot wide and nearly as deep, and it probably weighed less then five pounds. Still it has been sitting in the living room for sometime without anyone having the strength to move it.

You see, this small box contained all my dad’s belongings from 90 years of life. His wife had died about a year ago and he had never expected to outlive her. They had very few material goods to show for their years of work and 60 plus years of marriage. But it didn’t matter because they had each other and their three children and that was enough.

When his wife died my father moved into a room at his daughter’s home and spent some time with his sons. But something was missing and he decided to return to Minnesota and his roots and sisters. It was a sudden decision as had been his sale of the trailer home he and his wife had lived in for over 20 years. A home they dearly loved so much they had spent nearly all their money moving it to a safer park after repeatedly been victims of crime. Within a year in this new safe haven his wife, my mother, died a slow death from cancer.

Dad was now alone. He desperately wanted to fit into his children’s lives, but it was so difficult being nearly deaf and with his sight almost gone. The thing that he seemed to enjoy most was just being around them and feeling their presence.

In early March my brother called and asked me to keep my dad the day before my father’s flight to Minnesota. I welcomed the opportunity. I especially wanted to thank him for all the things that an honorable man gives a son; passion, patience, motivation, and direction.

I arrived early to pick-up my dad and opened the car’s trunk in anticipation of a lot of luggage. I was wrong. My dad only had a small-wheeled suitcase, a handful of records and tax statements, and the box.

We came home to a meal my wife had made especially for my father and we talked about nothing. When my teenage son asked him when he was planning to return to California my dad started to cry. It is very hard to watch a huge man sob. Dad’s eyes filled with tears at the thought of perhaps never seeing his children again. He loved them in his way.

We sat across the dinner table looking at one another. Two men who never really learned how to express their feelings sat eating silently. A son and a father who in over 50 years had never hugged or exchanged an expression of love sat staring at each other trying desperately to find the courage to speak. Silently, heads down, we ate, and the opportunity slipped away.

Small talk around the television and the sharing of a few photos ended the evening. Before going to bed he walked into the bedroom and brought out the box.

“I want you to have this,” he said handing me the cardboard container. I thanked him and placed it unopened on a table in the living room.

We were interrupted by my brother arriving for the trip to the airport. My dad refused my offer of help with his suitcase. He was a proud man who had never bowed to anything in his life except age. A man brought up in the tough Dakota Badlands who had to quit school in the fourth grade to help support his impoverished immigrant parents. Dad shut the car door, and after a wave from his rugged farmer’s hand, was whisked away into an uncertain future.

“Be careful, Dad. We’ll call you, dad. Thanks, ” I said, trying hard to stuff each familiar word with so much more meaning.

A lot was left unsaid when my father left. I stepped back into the house not knowing I was never to see him again.

I looked at the small dusty box sitting on the table knowing that it contained all the worldly possessions from my father’s nine decades of life. Inside there was a glue stick, scissors, three hats, two pairs of sunglasses, two broken radios, a bookend with his initial, a remote control, and my mother’s small jewelry case.

I closed the box. It was too heavy with memories to move.


Harry Haskvitz died in September of 2004. He was 92-years-old. The box remains in a place of honor in his son’s home.


Alan Haskvitz is a former Reacher’s Digest Hero in Education. You can find out more about him and free materials at his website.

This article is copyrighted.