By SKEETER TOWER
It was a large cardboard box that had been shipped to a SUNY Fredonia student. All that was visible were white plastic packing peanuts inside the cut open cardboard box when I first noticed it in the corner of the rented garage. I assumed it belonged to one of the young students renting my son's apartment. The box remained untouched, remote in a corner of the garage. A year later, I noticed the box was still there when I was doing some gardening around the building and entered the garage for a rake. I knew that the student of the previous year would now be gone, so I looked into it more closely, to identify exactly what it was and if it was perhaps empty and could be thrown out.
Reaching into the Styrofoam peanuts, I quickly realized that it was far from empty. There on the top I first pulled out a dark blue, bound East Aurora high school diploma. Removing more packing material, I found a scholarship award certificate from the Lion's Club in East Aurora. I was a little concerned, discovering that these were some important and personal items, significant enough that the student would probably be back to pick them up. I asked my son if he knew about the student in question and although he remembered the student, he had no knowledge of his current address. We decided that he would probably send for them or come to pick up the box and there was no urgent need to move it for the time being.
Fast forward eight years. My son's plan is to sell the building. Clean up and clear out is the order of the day. A neighbor has been renting the garage for the past five years and it is loaded with construction materials and other stuff in a rather disorganized fashion. I decided to straighten up one area, remove some porch pillers we had stored in the back of the garage and take the lawnmower for repair.
There it was. The box was still in the corner, now under piles of other clutter. I dragged it out and decided to discover what else might be in the box. It seemed as if it had never really been looked through since it was still so carefully packed. One item after another indicated that some devoted person had packed up personal treasures and sent them off to the student at SUNY Fredonia.
I loaded the dusty, battered and scrunched down box in my car and headed home to continue sorting out what was there and figure out how we might return it to the owner.
Back home on my porch I continued the process of discovery. There were two pairs of men's shoes, size 9, (sneakers and a pair of sturdy hiking boots). There were pennies that dropped out from inside the shoes; a red, multifunction jack knife, a small magnifying glass, a fat package of photos of a family, perhaps on a trip to Japan, given the landscape and the food and dress. There were high school senior prom photos in a little album and the tassel from the graduation cap. A velvet-covered box revealed the prized Eagle scout pin and then, a frame containing badges from each level of scouting with the student's name on it. There were ticket stubs from several functions including the Olympics, and a video of the Olympics, a collection of electronic games. There was a fraternity induction certificate and a laminated card with favorite passages from the Bible and recognition of accomplishments within the Mormon church. There were papers from a college in Utah and an invitation to a wedding also in Utah. It seemed as if it might be the student's sister. There was no doubt but that this was a collection of things that needed to find its way back home.
I remembered all the care boxes I had sent off at various times to my son. There were special items: favorite snacks, beef jerky, a compass, extra socks, a skateboard magazine, a Michael Jordan autograph, silly putty and a slinky that went off to boy scout camp. One summer at Cape Cod there was a new bathing suit, flippers, adventure stories, art supplies and more special snacks, some extra spending cash tucked away for a rainy day treat, and a snazzy model Lamborghini.
I thought of the Blue Star Mothers and the care and effort that go into boxes sent to our soldiers overseas and at home bases. I had just checked the list of suggested items for Blue Star boxes.
The list includes T-shirts and wool socks and time passers including disposable cameras, Velcro darts, batteries of all kinds, current magazines, Sudoku, cross word puzzles, playing cards, books and CDs. Favorite food items on the list include Ramen soup, hot chocolate, tuna or chicken in single serving cans, beef jerky(the #1 requested item), peanut butter, cookies (chocolate chip, Oreos, oatmeal and Girl Scout cookies), nuts, ground coffee, gum, trail mix and granola bars. Personal items include sunscreen, lip balm, toothbrushes, mouthwash, shampoo, foot powder and icy /hot patches. Looks like mothers everywhere have their pulse on what might bring a smile or comfort to a kid away from home.
Yes, the box I found for certain was one of those boxes packed with loving care and a mother's touch. Now for the detective work.
I first called East Aurora High School to see if they had a list of alumni. Running into privacy regulations, I left contact information and the reason for the call. I explained although eight years had passed, there appeared to be younger siblings in the family. They checked but seemed to find no results of a forwarding address.
Next I contacted the Lion's club current president and explained the circumstances for the search. He promised to look into it but as the third month passed with several follow up calls I learned that they suspected I was a collection agent and they had not really been willing to pass along information. After convincing them of my genuine intent to return these items they resumed a search but announced they also had come to a dead end. I called the national headquarters for the fraternity and explained my desire to locate this "brother" and they took my information and agreed to see what they could find. No response. SUNY alumni office was not helpful. No leads there. I called the Boy Scouts and asked if they might help. Boy Scouts always are prepared to help, right? Messages left, no responses.
I was still thinking Boy Scout when I remembered a previous conversation with Rosemary Banach about her son working for Eagle Scout status. Of course. He would know how to use all the social media and computer searches and could, for sure, find the owner of the box. I arrived at Dunkirk Flavors where Rosemary works in this newly revived company producing ice cream toppings. She gave me her son's name, but even as we were talking she had started searching the internet herself. Yes, I thought, another mother who understands the importance of "care packages."
Two days later I heard a voice on my phone introducing himself as my lost student. His fraternity had contacted him. Oh, I said I knew the Boy Scouts could do this. No, he corrected me, his fraternity.
He is now married with a family himself and living in Ogdon, Utah. Of course he was curious and grateful. He wanted his belongings and offered to pay the postage. I had to admit that around Thanksgiving I had given the shoes to Rural Ministries and eliminated some of the heavier items, feeling exhausted and nearly hopeless about the search. I had kept all the stuff that represented his accomplishments and the photos - just in case. I called Rosemary to let her know that she and/or her son had solved the mystery and we found him. It turns out that she had pursued the names on the wedding invitation, SUNY, and the fraternity. The secretary at the fraternity, getting a second inquiry, focused on the problem and found a contact.
The remaining stuff fit exactly into a medium- sized postal box and headed home.
Skeeter Tower writes monthly for the OBSERVER. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org