Growing up, we were eight kids, Mom and Dad, and the occasional stray cat, in a tiny 3 bedroom house. With one bathroom. And no shower. There was Mom and Dad’s room, the boys’ room, the girls’ room, and a long line for the bathroom. Quarters were tight, but fun was plentiful.
Still, Mom and Dad thought their kids should have some kind of personal space. So Dad made us each a “Treasure Box”: a wooden box made like a miniature pirate’s treasure chest, the kind you see in movies buried on desert islands where “X” marks the spot. They weren’t big, maybe twice the size of a shoe box, but they were nice and we each had our very own. No one was allowed to open someone else’s Treasure Box, and each of us even got a lock to secure our Treasure Box. The locks were only little tin trinkets from the dime store, each with a tiny, wafer-thin key. Nothing that would hold-up against a pen-knife and two minutes of prying, but it was the principle that counted. Within the Treasure Box was our personal space, where we could store our most cherished possessions. Like my souvenir pennies stamped “Pocono Mountains” by a penny-press at a family reunion, and the polished rocks from North Dakota that were my Dad’s when he was a kid.
Well, it was 30 years ago that Dad made the Treasure Boxes, but just recently one came to light. Mom was cleaning-out an old closet and found one. It was locked. Talking to my sister Ruthie on the phone she mentioned the Treasure Box.
“In the closet in the back room upstairs?” Ruthie asked.
“Yeah,” Mom said.
“It’s mine,” Ruthie said.
“Are you sure?” Mom asked. “I was going to open it to find out whose it was, but it’s locked.”
“I’m sure,” Ruthie said. “I’ve got the key, so don’t break the lock.”
“You’ve got the key?” Mom asked.
“Yeah, it’s right here on my key ring.”
Only Ruthie. Understand, Ruthie moved out of my parents’ house decades ago. She’s now a mother herself, and a scientist with a Ph.D. in some branch of physics she’s explained to me, but I still don’t understand. She works in a fancy lab with ID badges and security codes, making some kind of space-age materials the name of which I can’t pronounce, whose uses have also been explained to me but which I still don’t understand. After all these years, Ruthie is still carrying the little tin key to her Treasure Box amid a jumble of industrial lab keys and secure-entry swipe fobs.
When Ruthie went home, she produced the key and opened the Treasure Box. Within were her childhood treasures, including a “My First Science Kit” that had seen some hard use but was carefully stowed and still well preserved.
It reminded me of Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of Heaven: it’s like a mustard seed. It’s the smallest of seeds, but, Jesus said: “‘once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade’” (Mk, 4: 32).
As fathers, one of our tasks is to plant seeds for our children. Seeds of imagination and possibility that can take root and, with love and encouragement, flourish. Small beginnings, like a “My First Science Kit”, in time can grow into something we can’t imagine now. Most of us won’t get the chance to see into our kids’ childhood Treasure Chest years later and learn what those seeds of possibility meant to them. But those seeds are the real treasures of childhood. They are the memories our kids carry with them, like little tin keys, into adulthood. They are the beginnings of their future. And there’s one seed that’s more important than any other: “‘the words of eternal life’”, which Jesus alone has (Jn 6: 68). If we can help that seed take root, nourish and cultivate it, when our kids leave home hopefully they’ll have the Keys of the Kingdom to take with them.