Thinking Inside of the Box – A Merry Birthday


My mother was worried my gift would not arrive on time. I checked later that day. The mailman put the well taped package with nine priority mail labels and tracking sticker in my mailbox. Just narrower and taller than a shoe box, the Amazon prime tape showing on the sides, I decided to open it, thinking the gift might be wrapped. I picked through what I thought was packaging material and saw the goodies beneath. But the papers weren’t packaging at all. I scratched my head, confused at first, then my gape morphed into surprise.

I folded the flaps and decided this was too delightful to experience alone. So the box went on the shelf to enjoy on my birthday.


I rarely ask for anything, because the truth is I don’t need anything. That’s a luxury in many corners of the world, calling our wants, needs. But my family is insistent, so I hinted at things I do like, not very subtly I’ll add.  I said I’m fond of puzzles and music, as in “this one is good” and “here’s another I like” and “I love guitar music.”

My children gave me a laser cut jigsaw I love, The Migration of Knowledge by Kevin Sloan and cut by Tara Flannery who is a phenomenal puzzle designer/cutter. It’s a surreal image of animals balancing books in a procession. I also, surprise, got tickets for Joe Bonamassa’s acoustic performance in NYC.


Tara Flannery cuts/designs the puzzle of Kevin Sloan’s Migration of Knowledge. Artifact Puzzles are laser cut and that makes a quality jigsaw “affordable.” The special shapes are called whimsies, spoiler above. The puzzles are artsy, creative, and fun. Link for serious puzzlers.

Here’s what you’ve been waiting for.

We had eaten cake and the family had given me their gifts, so I asked Norah to bring me Nana’s box. The giggles began before I even pulled back the lid. Last year my mother sent me a Christmas card on my birthday and crossed out Christmas to wish me a Merry Birthday instead. She’s an eminently practical woman and I admire her for that; when you have extra Christmas cards and your daughter’s born in January, it makes sense. They’re new and available and even better, cheap. So for this reason, I didn’t find it nearly as entertaining as my kids. Truth is, at my age, I’ve gotten rather used to these things.

I admit, my children were in for a treat this year.

At the top of my mother’s box was a real estate magazine cover which seemed vaguely familiar, but what got me was that it was torn on three sides, resembling packaging. I held this up for the family to see.  The reaction reminded me of the facial expression one makes during the delivery of a punch line.

“Hey, that looks familiar,” my son said.

The picture was an aerial photo of our property in 2008. My mom later said she was sorry she didn’t get around to taping the tears.

“It’s not packaging,” I said to my children. “It’s our old house.” They asked to see the tattered page. My son pointed out forts he remembered and my daughter asked about the circular metal staircase.

The next layer of the box consisted of postage sheets, one of hearts, another of Batman stamps which was folded in half with one stamp upside down. Maybe she planned to use that one, but thought against sending a 19 stamp sheet. The last was a half sheet of Ingrid Bergman, one of my mom’s favorite actresses. I wasn’t surprised to receive stamps, because I buy them as gifts too.  What was interesting was that I gave her a sheet of Ingrid Bergman at Christmas along with two of her movies. So when I asked her about it, she said she purchased a couple more sheets and wanted to share.

She included a nice birthday note and no it was not on Christmas stock. Next came a baby shower invitation which I did not recognize. That’s easy to understand because it is not my own; it belongs to my sister-in-law and announces the arrival of her first baby girl, an event hosted by her mother on July 21, 2001. Yes, that’s 14.5 years ago. The baby girl eventually received a name, Alexandra Ann, my beautiful niece. My sister could never have imagined that such auspicious news would one day make the east coast voyage in such a fashion as this, to herald my 47th year.

My teen was laughing so hard at this point, that she lost her balance and fell off the kitchen chair. She and my other two children believed that Nana used this card for my birthday.  I’m not sure why my mother included the old baby shower invitation and I didn’t press her for an answer next time we spoke. Better to let some things, you know, just be.

The goodies include European and Trader Joe chocolates as well as Reese’s peanut butter hearts. The crispy M&Ms in the green wrapper are new to me, especially the 180 calorie kind as noted on front. Among all of these food items, one is not like the others; yes, you guessed it, taking up half the box is an 8 ounce canister of Trader Joe’s Gourmet Fried Onion Pieces.


The gift arrives.

Not for celiac disease sufferers or for anyone aspiring to eat healthy, because it says right there on the ingredients after Onions: Vegetable Oil and CONTAINS WHEAT. My mom explained in detail however, that as far as fried onions are concerned, these are the best of the best.

Age could be a factor in the decision-making for this much deliberated and much anticipated gift, but moving is a bigger factor. This type of stuff surfaces when we pack and purge. And my mother just moved. She has given me exquisite jewelry pieces and fancy clothing, yet at 75, she realizes that I’m a T-shirt and jeans person, that I like chocolate, and that I’m a bit sentimental.

I told my mother that Kate came by in her winter coat and ski cap to sing me Happy Birthday. Then we enjoyed the Persian tea and muffins she brought. Since my birthday I’ve eaten one Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate Bar, the Espresso Dark Chocolate Baton, and the Raspberry Baton. At dinner last night, we all shared Super Smooth Belgian Chocolate Mini Bars. I’ve also had several cups of Persian tea.

Speaking of TEA, I won’t share my latest news, the great TEA experiment a’ la George Orwell.  More on that later.

I told this to the laughing hyenas, AKA my children, at my birthday table:  gifts don’t need to be fancy or expensive or even practical, if they come from the heart. I don’t remember what I got on my 37th birthday, or my 17th, for that matter. None of us, however, will forget Nana’s package this year.

I must wait for just the right occasion to open the Gourmet Fried Onion Pieces. There’s a truth at the bottom of the box, or canister as it may be:  Mother knows best.

Jan 22, 2016


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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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