The Brown Paper Sack

I could hear the excitement in their voices as they peeked from the window sill at the approaching truck. “Do you think he’s got them?” the middle one asked. A sudden intake of breath from the littlest one was followed with “Oh, no! What if he forgot?” to which the older, much wiser one replied “Of course he has them. He wouldn’t forget about us. Has he EVER forgotten?”  That question seemed to calm the group for a moment as they watched the truck pull into the drive and the tall black-haired man step out. And, yes, in his hand was the brown paper sack. “He’s got it! He didn’t forget!” yelled the little one as she made a mad dash for the door with the two older ones right behind. “Daddy! Daddy! You’re home! What’s in the sack? What’s in the sack?” they all yelled simultaneously.

This scene was played out over and over through the years in the Hughes household. There were no huge gifts, no long trips, no reservations at well-known restaurants. When you are a family of five with Dad working and Mom staying home with the kids, expensive “wants” are not a part of the monthly budget. But that never kept my husband from helping our children to learn that precious gifts could come in a small, insignificant brown paper sack.

Our children knew what was in the sack. They always knew. Candy bars. Different kinds. Different wrappings. But always chocolate. Their dad laughed at their questions as he did the same thing that he did each time the brown sack came home with him: he walked across the kitchen and put the sack on top of the refrigerator. “I have a feeling,” he said with a smile, “that for those kids who eat all their supper, a surprise might be in that brown sack.”  That was followed with choruses of “Oh, please, Daddy, let us look! Just one time! We won’t touch anything in the sack…we just want to look!” And Daddy would laugh and grab all three children in a huge hug and say “You know I can’t do that. But just let me tell you, what is in that sack is worth far more than gold!” Then, after supper was eaten, the brown sack came down from the top of the refrigerator and each child got to look inside and choose from among the precious contents. There were candy bars with and without nuts, full of caramel, short and fat, long and skinny. The variety was always different but the one ingredient was always there: chocolate.

The children would sit on the porch with their father while they nibbled slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) on the chocolate. He would ask each child about his or her day and listen intently as a problem or situation would be mentioned. He would then praise them for what they had done, encourage them to not give up and quietly offer a little bit of fatherly wisdom and advice. To our children it was a time to snack on their favorite dessert but little did they realize that they were doing something else: they were making a memory. Their father was teaching them by example that the simplest things in life, like sitting on a porch eating a candy bar, could be one of the best times they would have. And he was showing them a priceless love by taking the time to talk and to listen, to praise and to encourage.

No, they were not at an expensive restaurant, dressed in fancy clothes and eating the most costly meal on the menu. They were in shorts and tee-shirts, sitting on a back porch, eating chocolate. But they were learning a life lesson from a father who knew that one day each of them would be the one driving home in a truck with a brown paper sack while little ones peeked from a window saying “Do you think he’s got them?”

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