The Box
The Spectator
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 by Frank Shortt
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Each year around Christmastime it came to the Shortt home down on Grassy Creek. It was as if Aunt Betty, Uncle Curtis’s wife just knew when our clothes were getting a little threadbare.

Dad depended on coal that was mined from a drift mine on the Red Ash seam in Buchanan County, Virginia. He sold a lot of ‘customer coal’ to drummers who delivered groceries down in lower Buchanan County and on into Eastern Kentucky. In winter, when roads were impassable due to frozen conditions, coal mining in a small ‘truck mine’ came to a standstill. If the roads thawed enough for the produce trucks to move around, then we could have groceries and money for warm clothing. We became dependent on the clothing that Aunt Betty sent to us from hand-me-downs that her boys had outgrown. They lived in Elkridge, Maryland and Uncle Curtis always had a steady job which provided sustenance for his family. They had somehow overcome the hillbilly stigma of appearing poor and downtrodden.

When the box arrived all eight of the Shortt kids hovered around as mom cut the hemp strings that held the box together from Maryland to Virginia. Uncle Curtis had dropped it off on his way to visit Grandpa up at the head of Shack Ridge. For some reason Betty and the boys stayed in the car.
       “How y’all been, Stell? Uncle Curtis directed his question to his oldest sister.
       “Fair to middlin’, she replied. Why don’t you all come in and visit awhile?”
       “I reckon we better get on up to Dad’s place before it gets dark. You know how dark it gets up there on the peaks. We’ll try to stop back on our way out!” With that he got in his car and drove off. Uncle Curtis was a man of few words. Betty and the boys waved their goodbyes.

We stared, with eyes as wide as silver dollars, as mom began taking out piece after piece of used clothing. Mom didn’t realize she teased us by her slow motions. Each article of clothing was a prize. I especially waited for a pair of long jeans that would fit me. They could be a little long for all I cared. The style was to roll them up anyway like John Wayne as he rode across the silver screen.
        “Mom, ain’t there any long jeans in there that would fit me,” I asked with anticipation and impatience. I had grown really tired of wearing the usual bibbed overalls that most hillbilly children wear. I had seen other boys at school wearing Wrangler or Roebucks jeans with belts and wanted a pair in the worst way. I would even settle for Carhart’s if that was the best that we could do.
       “We’ll just have to wait and see,” was her oft repeated reply.

There were flannel shirts that could be worn by either the girls or the boys. There were socks that could be used the same. As mom pulled out piece after piece one of the children would lay claim to one thing or the other with, “I can shore use that!” or “Boy! That’ll fit me perfect!” The girls wore jeans with the legs rolled up at that time in the 1950’s to show off their bobby socks. I suppose a singer named Pat Boone had introduced ‘bobby socks’ and ‘white bucks’ to his generation. It’s strange how young folks are influenced by singers, actors, and even criminals instead of by their parents. Later, as they grow up, they begin to see that their parents were not so stupid after all!

Finally, just when I thought there was nothing to fit me, Mom reached into the box and pulled out a pair of Roebuck’s jeans. Those long, belted pants, replacement for my old faded bibbed overalls. They had been too far down in the box to suit me. They were bleached out by many washings, but what did I care! They were still useable. This was a gift unsurpassable! A smile replaced the frown on my face immediately! All I could say was, “Oh Mom, I love them!”

Those jeans were worn until they were only fit for the rag-bag where mom stored rags to use for her winter quilts. Things must have gotten better in the Shortt household afterwards as I do not ever remember getting anything that I appreciated as much as that pair of jeans from Aunt Betty’s Box, better known as a Care Package!