The Incompetent Boxboy

by Justin Masters
El Dorado Hills, California, USA

In sixth grade, I was transferred into Jim Sanderson’s class — the new teacher at the school. It was “the west side”, to those who lived on the eastern side of Salt Lake City, Utah. It was filled with people of color and a multitude of nationalities. We lived there because we were poor — my mother divorced, with four kids. And back then, being divorced in a predominantly family-oriented Mormon mecca was akin to the scarlet letter being placed on our foreheads. Something was wrong with you if you were in a divorced family.

Jim earned the respect of his students and encouraged them to excel by offering prizes to those who were willing to stretch their minds and solve those tougher problems in our school books. I was eager to please him, as he gave a ray of kindness to a boy in a fatherless home filled with a desperate sort of tension: how to get by month-to-month.

In return for my efforts in solving math problems, he treated me (and a few classmates) to a one-on-one meal across town. It wasn’t fancy, but for a poor kid, eating out (even at a small deli) was a treat! He took some time to get to know me, asked me questions about myself, my family, and asked if he could help.

Incompetent Boxboy I was too proud to show him what he must have already known about the condition of our family and finances. I admired him, and didn’t want him to think any less of me for admitting that I needed help. “We’re okay,” I lied. But he came to our door one day, a big packing box full of cereal. He said he ran a couple of stores across town, and once in a while someone would try to open the box with a razor and slice too deeply, opening the individual packages. He couldn’t sell them, and thought we could use them.

He couldn’t begin to imagine.

Macaroni and cheese …that was our favorite! And it disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared. Oatmeal, cake mix, flour, etc. And more seemed to come all the time.

Well, I hope he fired his boxboy! He must have been the most incompetent help he had ever hired, what with all the boxes of food with slits cut in them that came to our house! But as I thought back on it years later, I realized he must have cut a number of boxes himself. It must have been the one way a family was able to take food from someone and still let them retain their dignity. He knew how to reach out to others and in the process help them grow.

He taught there for a few years more, probably helping others as he helped myself and our family. And then he was gone. A heart attack had felled this gentle man, and took a small part of my heart with him.

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Originally published as HeroicStories #18 on June 12, 1999

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5 thoughts on “The Incompetent Boxboy”

  1. We were blessed enough with a well to do neighbor who had children my younger sisters’s ages. They played and fought and made up all in a span of minutes. lol. The well to do mother is the one who would give my mom a bag of clothes over the side fence many times for my sisters. Good clean expensive very nice clothes. Were we happy to get them? You bet. We were never “rich” in money. We are rich in memories.

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  2. I loved this story, and how perceptive the teacher was to the problem and his elegant solution. I love reading about this sort of REAL Out of the Box thinking!

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  3. I too had Mr. Sanderson as a teacher and he did the same for me. He lifted me up in many ways and even took the time to draw for me an awesome picture of the Incredible Hulk…a comic book character I loved much. When I went to Jr. High, I posted that picture in my locker and there it stayed until one day, bullies got into my locker, scattered my stuff on the floor and tore up the picture. As I was walking to my locker, I saw pieces of the picture on the floor that he drew for me and by the time I got to my locker, I was in disbelief and crying. That picture meant more to me than any of the comics. When I heard Mr. Sanderson had died, I cried again…for him…and for the picture that I wish I still had that reminded me of him. He was a wonderful teacher and someone who truly cared for me.

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  4. I’ve put off posting a comment to previous stories in this series, though many brought me close to tears. No excuse – just “too busy”, “not knowing what to say” etc… Yes – there are many good people in this world despite the heaps of bad things happening everywhere.

    However, this story really brought tears and I was compelled to thank you for publishing this series and in particular this one. I have a deep Christian faith (belief) but always feel guilty for not putting into practice real Christianity – i.e. “Do unto others”, “Love one another” etc., other than just trying to be courteous and helpful in simple daily things. I should really do much more!

    So thanks again, and may those who read future stories be moved to exercise true “Christianity” even if not (yet) Christians as such.

    Best of luck!! D.J.

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