When I was growing up, church was something we dashed to the last minute after Sunday morning cartoons and bowls of sugar-doused Cheerios.
My mom was as kind as she was crazy: she let us bring anything to church except the family dog and roller-skates. Over the years we lugged armfuls of books, crayons, dolls, playdough, Froot Loop yarn necklaces, and various craft projects. One day I asked her if we could bring our Treasure Boxes. Much to my surprise she said, Yes.
“Dreams, memories, the sacred–they are all alike in that they are beyond our grasp. Once we are even marginally separated from what we can touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the unattainable, the quality of the miraculous.”
—Yukio Mishima, Spring Snow
My memories of my Treasure Box are all of the above — beautiful, miraculous, sacred. There we were, five kids walking into our starched sacrament meeting, each with inelegant, brown cardboard boxes with the tops sawed off, boxes larger than our bodies. (This was the early 1980’s, plastic totes weren’t a thing yet.)
Our boxes held precious things. I was nine-years-old and mine included stuff like:
- 1 paperback edition, Little House in the Big Woods; condition: well loved
- 1 yellow clay pot, hand-painted from Kindergarten
- An assortment of McDonald’s napkins from rare dinner outings — we were always on a budget and only ate out when someone got baptized…sharing fries and if we got lucky, a sundae
- 1 Kid’s Menu from Holiday Inn, Lake Havasu, AZ (family trip #46)
- Various CTR rings scrounged from the Primary room floor — bent beyond wear
- Macaroni art from my long-ago days as a Sunbeam
- Love notes from my first grade boyfriend, Stephen Huffaker
- Scratch–and–sniff stickers that no longer sniffed
What I can’t imagine are the eyes watching us trot in and out with our giant boxes. And then in the pews — the sigh of sifting paper, the clink of my miniature china dolls, the soft squish of playdough.
From deep inside there rose
some glow passing steadily through me, but I was not
playing, now, I felt like someone
small, in a raftered church, or in
a cathedral, the vaulted spaces of the body
like a sacred woods.
We were anything but bored, each of us sitting like bent trees over our boxes, not-listening-but-listening to the church talks and choir, hymns and testimonies. Realizing deep inside we were part of it all. Sacred. Afterward we’d Sunday home in our faux-wood brown and tangerine Pinto station wagon for mom’s roast with homemade gravy and Texas sheet cake for dessert, thick with icing made from genuine Hershey’s cocoa — it never lasted long on our plates.
“I want to hold the holy inside the human.”
The holiest thing about my childhood? It’s hard because there were so many good things. It might have been the regular roasts, or laughing with our best-friend-neighbor Noelle, or being born squished in the middle of five kids and never being lonely for a single second. But more than that: the good grace of my mother. She loved us, understood us, didn’t care a pew what people thought.
I see my Treasure Box now, that it held more than macaroni art and CTR rings. It held my mother’s heart, her kindness, her craziness, her expansive love, and my own child-heart happy in a God-fearing family that was messy as it was good.