Patti Johnson is from Collins, Ohio, and she is “the lady who does historical research as a hobby in Ohio” briefly mentioned in Charlie Myers’ story Stepping Into The Twilight Zone.  As alluded to by Charlie, there is a much bigger, almost unbelievable, story of how Patti came to enter Charlie’s life, and then mine, but I’ll let Charlie tell you that one himself.  Soon after Charlie was connected with Patti, he sent her the DVD of The Letter.  Patti had a powerful reaction to the film, so strong in fact, Charlie wrote Patti “I have a feeling you have a very significant personal back story in all of this.”  Patti responded by sending Charlie her story of “The Box.”

A letter from a father to his son buried in a box in Emily Buckberry’s garage for 40 years.

A box shipped five months earlier and delivered to Dr. Helen Roseveare in the Congo containing the hot water bottle desperately needed that very day to save a newborn’s life Isaiah 65:24.

A box randomly shipped by Charlie Myers to a fifth grade class in Los Angeles he  heard about several months earlier at a conference on the East Coast containing DVDs of the film October Sky—the film the teacher had wanted to show his class the day before but could not because it had been stolen from the school’s library.

Patti Johnson stumbled upon her own miracle in a box—a miracle incubated for many years in a crucible of deep and prolonged pain and love.

We are honored to share with you Patti Johnson’s very powerful, deeply personal and profoundly inspiring story of “The Box.”

Thank you and God bless you Patti

The Box

By Patti Johnson

My Mother died in November 1971.  She was one month shy of her 53rd birthday and I was 16, a junior in High School.  My sister, Paula, was 17, and a senior.  My Dad was sixty-one years old.  We were living in a small suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.  Two teen-aged girls, flailing in grief, now under the direct providence of a man born in 1910, in a world now promoting sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and filled with hippies and freaks, war and peace, and hell at home.  But we were good Catholic girls, did well in sports and school and, while we sampled and experienced some of the world’s temptations, we never hitch-hiked on the road to ruin.

We played basketball and softball, earned straight A’s, and held part-time jobs.  Nothing we did, was good enough for him.  Our every word or action was suspect.  We didn’t see his grief— ours was too sharp and deep to see beyond ourselves.  We didn’t see his fear of failing us, or the worry that we could be snatched into a world of detriment beyond his control.  We simply could not see that he only wanted the best for us, and he could never find the words to say so.  Those insights wouldn’t come until years later.

Ten months after My Mother’s death, my sister left for California, (and a prelude to a life and marriage of 35 years, that ended too soon, with the death of her husband).  While she had my blessing, her leaving made things worse at home.  She didn’t tell him.  She just packed up and left.  My Dad was furious, and when he figured out that I knew and had known, everything became my fault.  My escape from the daily fault-finding diatribes was the secret path that veered off the straight and narrow.  Simple common sense helped me avoid trouble.  I went to school, kept up those straight A’s, went to work and still played sports.  And I partied on the weekends. He may have suspected, but I left nothing provable.  He wasn’t violent, or physical, but his words cut deep and wounded.  To say that my father was not happy with me, is putting it mildly.  He did not approve of my choice to work.  He thought I should be going to college, (a financial impossibility),  he didn’t care for my “long-haired” friends and he thought I was well and truly on that road to ruin.

He did not go to my high school graduation.  Somehow I made it through that night without family there. I learned that some things hurt for an entire lifetime.   I moved out a few days later.  I was living with the widowed neighbor lady, a lifelong family friend, and didn’t try to hide it.  He knew where I was staying, but we didn’t talk for months.  He moved to a smaller apartment, about a block away. So I went to work, and occasionally went out with friends and was living in quiet peace.   In September of 1973, his brother died, and he came by to ask if I wanted to go with him to his brother’s funeral.   It was some distance away, and I had no other way to get there, so I agreed.

Two of my aunts (his sisters—there were 11 siblings), were in the car when he picked me up.  I felt a bit uneasy and had a sense of impending doom.  We arrived at the funeral home, and everything seemed O.K.

My Dad and I even stopped outside to pose for a photo with another one of his brothers and his family.

Shortly after, inside the funeral parlor, my Dad began a tirade, right there in front of the entire assembled extended family.  He called me a slut and a tramp and a whore, and said that he was ashamed of me.  I was furious and beyond shock, but not for myself.  How dare he cause such a scene in such a sacred place, in front of my newly widowed Aunt, and her son, and grandchildren.  I did not respond to his pontifications.  Instead, I went to my Aunt, and knelt down in front of her, and apologized for his behavior.  I told her that if I had known that he would cause such a scene, I would not have come.  I told her that she and my Uncle would remain forever in my heart.  A quick hug and a kiss on her cheek, and I was out of there, while my father continued ranting and raving.  I caught a ride home with one of my many cousins.  I kept my head up, and refused to dwell on the negative, but I couldn’t stop pieces of my heart from breaking off.

Call me an idiot, call me a glutton for punishment, but also call me his daughter.

About one month after the funeral home scene, I went to see my Dad.  I went bearing a small gift— a little cedar box that I thought he might like.

6″L x 3&1/2″W x 2″ H

It was Saturday, Sweetest’s Day, October 19, 1973.  He wasn’t home.
His landlady let me in to his apartment, although she stood there at the door.
I left the unwrapped box on his kitchen table, with a brief note:
“Daddy, Because I Love You.  Your Daughter, Patti”

A Close-up of The Note

I did not see or hear from my Dad.  No reaction.  No response.  Months went by.  Christmas came and went.  His silence was speaking volumes to me, and so, I let it go.  In a matter of weeks, I met my future, and married him.   (Those who said that kind of whirlwind would never last should be told that we are well past our 37th anniversary)  Life happened.

In June of 1976, I gave birth to our son.  With encouragement from my husband, I sent my father an announcement that he had a newborn grandson.  My father responded with a card and a brief note.  The lines of communications were now open. For a few months, letters went back and forth, until I finally caved in to my husband’s suggestion that we go and visit him. My son was about 4 months old when he met his maternal Grandpa.

Three years had elapsed since I had seen my Dad.

In the subsequent years, my Dad and I were able to talk about many things, and much of the past.  The passage of time, a little of life’s seasonings, and perhaps motherhood, gave me a new perspective on the things that had happened.  We both apologized for the things that could not be forgiven, and we forged a new and pleasant father~daughter relationship.

I “dragged” my sister into the mix by telling her she needed to rejoin his life.  She did, and so my father had both of his daughters back.

Six years after our reunion, my father passed away in his sleep.  They said it was his heart.  He was 72 years old and he was gone much too soon.  Did he know I loved him?  Did he really love me?  Sometimes the stages of shock and grief make you question everything and you look for reassurances.   Sometimes questions are left unanswered.

After the funeral, as we were clearing out his small apartment, my brother, Billy, handed me The Box.  I had buried that memory deeply and had not bothered to drag it up with him, and my father had never mentioned it in the six short years of our reunited life.  The fact that he had kept it made me smile.  And then I focused on the note taped to the top of the lid.  In my own handwriting were the words,

“Daddy, Because I Love You.  Your Daughter, Patti”

He did know, and he had kept that little box as a constant reminder.
And his keeping that little box also told me that, yes, he really did love me.

In the top right corner of that note, taped to the lid, I had written the date:

October 19, 1973.

My father died on October 19, 1982.

9.00 Years Later.


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Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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