I found the forgotten box while searching for Tom’s medical records, weeks after the diagnosis. We needed some smiles.
Tom’s mother, Dorothy, had squirreled away every remembrance from the life of her littlest boy. I wasn’t surprised by the ragged graduation tassels or faded class pictures, but I was amused by his third grade Colgate Consistent Brushing Award.
We discovered his Cub Scout beanie, a smudged deer tag from his only buck, and a telegram Dorothy sent Tom during his senior class trip. Her thrifty message read: “Accepted in NROTC, Mother.”
Scattered among early school images were snapshots of many model airplanes Tommy made throughout his childhood, each tiny Mustang or Corsair poised for takeoff on a sidewalk runway. Bitten early by the aviation bug, Tom happily rediscovered the evidence of his first squadron, a rare day of delight in his chemo haze.
Banded together with his National Honor Society and Boys’ State certificates were a dozen yellowed report cards. Elementary teachers lauded “Tommy’s exemplary behavior and sweet nature,” and his senior class advisor sent a handwritten note relaying her “heartfelt congratulations” when he was named class salutatorian. The next letter, addressed to his parents three weeks before graduation, came from the principal:
“It is with deep regret that I inform you of Tom’s indefinite suspension from school for smoking on the school roof today with his friend, Frank, the class president.”
When I unearthed this goody, Tom grinned, recalling his mother’s mortification, his father’s wrath - although he was eventually allowed to graduate, even deliver his honors address.
Together we uncovered college scholarships, fraternity pins, then academic and social probations. “Mere youthful mischief,” dismissed my smirking, sallow man from his recliner.
His summer midshipman cruises brought postcards from Chile and the Galapagos. Airmail letters bore Manila postmarks, his base when flying over Viet Nam. Crumbling newspaper clippings documented the night that Tom lost his port engine 250 miles at sea. Survival training and instinct kept Tom and his 14-man crew alive, probably supplemented by Dorothy’s novenas.
And Dorothy saved everything. The box held paycheck stubs, our engagement announcement and Tom’s graduate school acceptance. As I dug through the shabby carton I realized that I was seeing not just the dog-eared memorabilia of a boy, but the formation of a man, a life that stayed on track with but a few youthful sidesteps . . . the scout, scholar, frat boy and officer who responsibly morphed into husband, businessman, father, volunteer, grandpa . . . hero.
I scattered his mother’s treasures among Tom’s adult pictures at his calling hours. Dorothy hadn’t verbalized her pride . . . she simply preserved it, year after year, in a crowded cardboard box.
Marcy O’Brien began to write as she entered her dotage, about a decade ago. She has been writing a humor/human interest column for the Warren Times Observer for the past six years and has written for national and regional newspapers and magazines.
At an age when most sensible people have retired, she also works as the Executive Director of the Struthers Library Theatre in Warren, PA, an historic legitimate theatre with a busy stage.
Marcy who grew up in the Boston area, is an alum of Boston University. Widowed now, she has two grown children who thoughtfully live in places she loves to visit - her son in London, and her daughter’s family in the Boston suburbs.
Marcy divides her time between work, writing, gardening, bridge, and doting on the Princess of Boston and her little brother, Mr. Smiles.
She received an Honorable Mention in the 2007 Erma Bombeck contest.