Monday, February 7, 2011


Toy Story Cigar Box, circa 1952, Emporia, KS
Patches' Dog Tag, circa 1951, Emporia, KS

The children’s classic, The Littlest Angel, was written by Charles Tazewell when I was four years old in 1946. That coincidently was about the age Michael departed this world and entered heaven where he was perpetually in trouble and unhappy. His happiness is restored after he is allowed to retrieve a special box left under his bed at home. The box contained wonderful artifacts from earth--a butterfly with golden wings, a sky blue egg, two white stones and a leather collar that had belonged to his dog that had lived in absolute love and infinite devotion.

On the eve of the birth of God’s son, the angels laid elaborate gifts at God’s throne for the one to be named Jesus. Michael gave the only thing he possessed that he cherished more than anything. The hand of God paused over the priceless box as it pleased Him the most, since its contents were of earth and men and His son was born to be king of both. The story is a wonderful lesson of grace, the true spirit of giving, and understanding the difference between things of this world that have monetary value and those that are priceless.

I was recently sorting accumulated possessions on a cold winter’s day and happened upon an old El Roi-Tan cigar box. I recognized the box as one from which my grandfather retrieved many unforgettable cigars he smoked most of the time I knew him. To this very day, whenever the scent of cigar smoke wafts into my presence it reminds me of him. Upon opening the box, I was greeted by a small but priceless representation of my boyhood. Unlike the young man’s toys in Toy Story 3, these childhood artifacts had survived the past sixty years in my grandfather’s cigar box. When I left for college, my mother not only cleared out what would now almost literally be a valuable baseball card collection, but as in Toy Story 3, all the remainder of my childhood. But somehow, this priceless cigar box survived the carnage.

I was a child born during WWII just ahead of the baby boomers, although I married a boomer that I met at college after abandoning all things of a child. So, part of the menagerie includes one lone surviving WWII soldier and one lone Indian. Both of them were undoubtedly the sole survivors of many intense battles between the G.I. Joe allies and the Nazis and the Roy Roger cowboys and the Apache Indian wars. Their contemporaries were quite probably blown out of the sandbox battle grounds with strategically placed Black Cat fireworks and incoming BB’s. The gallant Crusaders seemed to have fared the best, but possibly only because they arrived late in my boyhood and were spared the intense and frequent action. The authentic German belt buckle and hand tooled leather cigarette box were brought home from the great war by my uncle and were prized war relics. I was after all, a child of the war. My uncles were heroes and one never returned.

The two cat’s eye marbles are all that is left of a humongous bag that was acquired by laser shots into a ring of neighbor kids’ marbles that were knocked outside the ring. And in those days, the skate key wrench was standard issue for all the neighborhood kids. The lone yellowed die most assuredly belonged to a children’s board game that was simply worn out from excessive play time. We didn’t have much television to watch back then. The Pee Wee water gun is stamped with “USA” which portends the offshore toy production that was just beginning to arrive on our shores. The small alligator clips were used to start my model airplane, a victim of one too many crash landings. The “I LIKE IKE” political buttons must have preceded this Kansas war hero’s presidential election in 1953. The small bird arrowhead was picked up in a Kansas field on my father’s childhood farm. I’m sure that the prescription box containing a sand dollar and sea shells were prized by a Kansas boy who had not yet experienced the distant oceans and assumed how precious and scarce they must be in this world. The “Happy Birthday” card with the smiling puppy was signed “Mom and Grandpa”—more priceless than the rookie autograph I got in later life from Tiger Woods.

And finally, lying unobtrusively at the bottom of the box was a worn 1951 dog tax tag that had belonged to my first true friend, Patches. We named the new puppy Patches because of the black spots over his short white hair. He and I sort of grew up together in those early days of blissful childhood. He had followed me and the Sunday entourage of cousins to a nearby lake and I hadn’t even noticed that he didn’t follow me home, as he usually had his own agenda at the lake. Later, my dad went out looking for Patches and found him dying in a street gutter, the victim of a passing automobile. He died later that afternoon wrapped in a warm blanket in the basement. My dad took me down to see him one last time and I kept his collar with the dog tag. It was my first encounter with death and losing a loved one in my life
--and the beginning of lost innocence.

The second I opened my grandfather’s discarded cigar box, I somehow thought of the littlest angel’s earthly box and the Toy Story 3 movie I had recently watched. My box actually contains some toys of war along with more sentimental childhood memories. But I think my box would still be a good example of every earth boy’s toy story and a gift fit for a king who would rule them.

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