My paternal grandmother came to live with us when I was in second grade. I look back now and realize that the preparation for moving her out of her small-town home into our farmhouse had begun the previous year.
It was then that my folks added on a bedroom—the largest of three in the house—with a plan for me to share it with Grandma. That’s what happened for those last few years of her life.
About the time Grandma became my roomie, a package for her arrived from friends at church. It was called a sunshine box, and it was a thing so curious and beautiful to these then-young eyes that I never forgot it.
The sturdy standard-issue cardboard box had been hand-covered with a paper garden of flowers, pasted in a collage over the entire package. The pictures had no doubt been clipped from seed catalogs for creating this unique “container garden.”
Inside were practical and interesting items that a senior woman in her 70s might use. One was a shaker container of scented body powder called Cashmere Bouquet, if memory serves; another, a small devotional book of encouragement. I don’t remember what else was in there, probably some Peppermint chewing gum or the bright-pink mints she favored; maybe a box of all-occasion cards for sending. I was as or more excited than Grandma to watch her unpack such lovely small gifts.
A variation on the sunshine box concept resurfaced earlier this year during Brian’s illness when friends from his former workplace sent word that he would be getting a gift basket. The result was not one but three containers overflowing with crossword-puzzles, handpicked books, candles, candy, gift cards, and other thoughtful comforts of love and friendship.
I vowed to do better at sharing this kind of love with others.
With memories of the vintage sunshine box in mind, several weeks ago I made my first one. I wanted it to be as much as possible like the one Grandma had received in the 1960s.
A childhood church friend and I had decided that we would visit two ladies from our youth who still attend the same church we attended. One, in fact, just turned 101 in October, and the other one is decades' younger, recovering from a surgery.
The week before our outing, I thought my laundry-basket-sized box would be a breeze to cover. I didn’t have any seed catalogs, so I flipped through stacks of general-interest magazines a friend had given me and tore out flowers, pictures of people doing fun things, cute kittens, phrases such as “Highway to heaven,” and attached them to the box with Mod Podge. I found that cardboard soaks up a lot of glue, so I put it on heavy.
I still didn’t have enough pretty pictures to cover the box. So, I went through more magazines of my own, and supplemented the collage with some floral wrapping paper from the closet. Finally, it was finished; my first old-fashioned sunshine box! It looked pretty good, if I do say so myself.
The friend and I met for lunch on a Monday. She also provided a decorated sunshine box. We divided our contributions of gently used magazines, books, cards, notebooks, and snacks between the two boxes and signed cards to go with the goods. Then we visited our friends at their separate locations.
More meaningful than the boxes, we spent an hour or longer with each of our recipients talking and telling life stories, being in no hurry to run off. Time is, after all, the best gift. We all enjoyed the visit, of that I am certain.
When I explained to the then-nearly 101-year-old about the boxes, I realized something. She may well have been one of the friends who contributed to that sunshine box for my grandmother back in the 1960s!
“Yes, we used to send sunshine boxes in the WSCS,” she said matter-of-factly of the United Methodist Church women’s organization, called Women’s Society of Christian Service in that era.
This was a full-circle moment. Without memories of that box, I would never have thought to suggest it as a goodwill present a half-century later.
I find it interesting to reconnect with people from my youth and to know that while I’ve reached retirement status, there are still those alive who remember my grandparents and parents. It feels amazing, particularly, because I haven’t lived in my hometown area in 43 years. Even so, it feels as close as ever to my heart, and the sense of belonging runs deep.
Just months into this retirement gig, I’m finding that one of the general principles I like most is that there is now the time to do things like this; to hop in the car and go visit someone. It’s nice to take a little something along as a gift—or to take a sunshine box.
Fill it with recent-issue magazines, inexpensive packaged treats (or home-baked if you can), toiletries, maybe pass along the book you just read and enjoyed, some stamps, envelopes and paper or notecards. Then sign and write a note on a card of your own with a nice note to wrap up a lot of joy for the recipient to know, “I am thought of. I am cared about.”
Whether you call it a sunshine box, a care package, a gift basket, or something else, it doesn’t take much except effort to make someone else’s day. Giving it away will make your own in the process.
Retired New Castle Courier-Times Neighbors Editor Donna Cronk’s Next Chapter column appears the second and fourth Saturdays in The Courier-Times and The Shelbyville News. It runs the first and third Tuesdays in the Connersville News-Examiner. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In our many years visiting friend Terri's place on the lake in southern Indiana, the Midlife Moms of Ovid Community Church enjoy a variety of activities that include boating and swimming, tubing, and eating, devotions on the boat. We pepper the time with lots of laughs and stories. Think slumber party without the preteen drama. It's a weekend of heaven on Earth.
Someone usually brings a craft for everyone to do. Just because.
We've outfitted terrariums from thrift-shop glass containers,, constructed paper flowers for a church event, scrapbooked, made bath bombs, embroidered bookmarks, seen who can make the most creative up-cycle from empty metal mint boxs and made Christmas ornaments.
This year I volunteered leading our craft time. We made hats out of newspapers. You can too. Read on.
Now that you have the hat custom-formed to one's head, you secure with masking encircling the outer newspaper and remove it from the head. Now it's time to figure out what type of hat you'll create. Interesting how all our hats were so unique.
Patty folds her pages to form a bill. Use a stapler to secure the paper.
Nice work there, Donna.
Sisters Phyllis and Karen are stylin' in their hats.
Donna's hat, left, includes a paper flower, and scrap ribbon decks out Sharon's creation.
Christmas 1976. My gift from sister-in-law Jeannie? An oversized afghan, crocheted in various hues of blue, a sturdy pattern designed for extra warmth, created by the hands of Jeannie's mother, Evelyn Jackson of Brownsville, Indiana.
It was luscious; so much so that I folded it up and assigned it to my hope chest. I think the girls of my generation were the last to have these large, legged boxes that were for their mothers and grandmothers standard fare among young women. They were meant to contain beautiful linens and dishes that a girl “hoped” to enjoy in marriage.
Just a year and a half later I married Brian and the cedar chest and its contents went into our starter home. We wed in late October so it took no time for the afghan to make its entrance and remain on various sofas in our lives for the next 35 years.
Its wonderful size spread comfortably over all of Brian’s 6’3” frame, and for me, allowed more than enough room for napping in warmth with a toddler at my side, or a cat, or dog or even two of the three at once.
On especially cold nights, it was added on top of the bed blankets to my side of the bed only as it provided one too many layer for Brian’s.
New Year’s Eve 1980: Our friends visited for what would become the first of the next dozen years of new years seen in together. Pam was expecting their first baby, Jenny, and wasn’t feeling well that night. We insisted that she bundle up in that blanket.
Another few years later, it swaddled a sleeping niece for her ride home with parents after a too-late visit to our house.
I joked with Brian, sort of, that if I died, he should bury it with me.
All the while the blanket washed and dried beautifully in our appliances on standard settings.
Then in about 2010, the year Ben and buddies rented a house together in college, it apparently went off to live with him. Or at least that’s what we think. We didn’t see it again at home, and with a sigh, figured it got lost or abused beyond use in the world of college life and a household of young bachelors. I marveled at what a useful life it had led. That was that.
Until last weekend.
I was going through some things upstairs. I decided to clean out the antique cradle that holds pillows and extra blankets. You know what’s coming ...
The long-lost afghan surfaced at the bottom of the cradle! I couldn't believe our good fortune! It was back in our lives. I unearthed it and whisked it off to the washer for a good cleaning, then to the drier. As it had done every time for decades, it came out soft, clean, and perfectly intact.
One would be hard-pressed to give or get a more useful and better made gift than that afghan.
Thank you again, Jeannie, and thanks to her mother Evelyn, all over again. It will be making regular appearances again for the rest of this winter – and beyond.
Do you have a handmade staple in your life like our afghan? Also wondering if any of you ladies had hope chests and if you still have them?
Back in January 2007, Ovid Community Church had an experiment, of sorts. Everyone was encouraged to sign on with a life group that seemed to suit them and commit to just six weeks, no more. At the end of six weeks, those in the group decided if they wanted to continue to meet and continue “doing life” together.
Not only did our group continue, but (blessing of blessings) heading toward a decade together, we’re still at it. The group, which we named the Midlife Moms (MLMs for short) has changed as some have come, some have gone and many remained a part for all these years. Our current roster is 12.
The thing about church is this: if all you do is go and sit in a pew on Sunday, you won’t get to know others, develop relationships, or have personal support or encouragement in times you need them. A life group is a combination support group / Bible study / social group. A life group is a space to get to know one another and know them well. We humans have a deep desire to know and be known by both God and others.
We’ve done many interesting things through these years from put on church dinners to creating women's church retreats, hosting a garage sale and donating our proceeds, to enjoying many studies together. We’ve prayed and cried and giggled and been there for each other.
The journey continues.
And this weekend, it continued at our annual summer lake weekend at friend Terri’s place on Cordry Lake in Brown County. I can’t get over how easy it is to put together our lake weekends. An email goes out: What does everyone want to bring? The slots are filled quickly and on Sunday – we enjoy the best meal of the weekend with our leftover brunch where we clean out the fridge.
We usually do some sort of craft or creation on Saturday nights and this year we made bandana bracelets, courtesy of our friend Donna S.
The entertainment revolves around boating and swimming and deck sitting. Glorious!
We left Friday, came home today (Sunday) and still, the time is too short, the boat rides and swimming and giggles over too quickly.
So tonight, I am grateful. Grateful to God for the blessings of these women, for our church and for these lake weekends when we can refresh and renew. Thank you Terri for a great time.
I always loved girlfriend time growing up, having a slumber party in PJs with one friend or several.
It’s great news that girls our age can have this kind of fun too.
Captions: Upper left, only half of our gals could make it this time but we have a great time no matter the number. Upper right, a sampling from the leftover buffet -- our favorite meal of many for the weekend. Lower left, Donna S. supplied the craft this time: plastic piping rings wrapped with one-inch wide strips of bandana and glue-gunned together. Far right, a look at the wrists that wear the bracelets, in a "We are the World" kind of moment.
Last week I attended one of those paint-a-picture-in-an-evening events that are trendy right now. My friend, Suzy Castrodale, invited me to an evening in Indy for a girls’ night out . I was grateful to finally get the chance to try my not-so-artistic hand at this. Why not?
My farmer dad loved art and longed to be a painter. He was drawn to traditional landscapes and sweet animal scenes. He had an art studio in our home that consisted of paint brushes of every variety, acrylic paints of every color, sketchpads and canvases waiting to be filled. Mostly, it all waited.
He took weekly art classes for a while and enjoyed browsing art fairs. Once when I was small, we visited a woman’s home in Connersville who had a large collection of art belonging to a former local artist of regional renown. Maybe she was his widow. I’m not sure. But we stayed a long time and left there with one of the artist’s paintings. It hung on our wall in the same spot for the rest of the years my parents had a home.
One thing that disappointed me in my father was that for all his interest, he didn’t paint many pictures. He was forever saying that he had so much to learn first. I remember thinking that we learn best by doing and that he should just go ahead and play with the paints, the brushes, the canvases. But he completed precious few paintings. I am proud to own his favorite of the few, the picture that was framed on my childhood living room wall across from the one he bought in Connersville. My brothers also each got one of dad’s pictures.
I think Dad was a good amateur artist. Maybe he could have even been great. I think he was possibly frustrated that in his day, he wasn’t able to learn and do more with his art. There just didn’t seem to be the opportunities to learn and do more. Or maybe he didn’t take them.
Through the years working at newspapers, I have written about a variety of artists. My favorite among them has always been Marilyn Witt of Straughn and I was blessed to have her consent to create the cover for both my novels. The paint isn’t even dry (so to speak) on the new one—but it is done! But we’ll talk about that later.
It has been a treat to work with her and see how she, without exception, responds graciously to my ideas and she used her talented vision to get both pictures just right to fit the goals we had for the covers.
And also, I always knew that my dad would have loved Marilyn’s art.
I’m not so sure what Dad would think about mine. I didn’t show my painting to Brian, for fear of a sarcastic remark of one kind or another. But to my surprise, he saw the picture without me pointing it out first, and he told me—unsolicited—that it’s pretty good.
I don’t know about that. But I don’t hate it.
It was a new experience. It was fun. I’d do it again.