The Incompetent Boxboy

by Justin Masters
El Dorado Hills, California, USA

The Incompetent Boxboy

In sixth grade, I was transferred into Jim Sanderson’s class. He was the new teacher at our school, which was on “the west 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 was divorced with four kids. Back then, being divorced in that 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 tough problems. 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 myself 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 and my family, and asked if he could help.

I was too proud to tell him what he must already have 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 with 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! 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 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 a way he could give food to people and let them retain their dignity.

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

Originally published as HeroicStories #18 on June 12, 1999

8 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.

  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!

  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.

    • Hey bro! I didn’t know you had replied 8 years ago. yeah, he was an incredible man! And one of the bright spots in a hard childhood.

      I can literally say he helped save my life by encouraging me to continue learning. There were only a handful of kids that got out of that neighborhood without being seriously affected by death, drugs and inter-generational poverty. But you know this.

  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.

    • I wrote this story, but only now saw your reply after the story was republished today.

      I wanted to say thank you for your comment, and I feel the same guilt at times as well.

      I guess just keep doing the best we can, and be sensitive to the spirit that prompts us to act.

  5. I read this story today, and it was so touching. I’m glad that you (Justin) went on to live a good life–and many thanks to sharing this tale of a truly good man who did so much to help others.


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