It was Molly’s job to hand her father his lunch in a paper bag each morning before he headed off to work.
One morning, in addition to his usual lunch bag, Molly handed him a second paper bag. This one was worn and held together with duct tape, staples, and paper clips.
“Why two bags” Fulghum asked.
“The other is something else,” Molly answered.
“What’s in it?”
“Just some stuff. Take it with you.”
Not wanting to hold court over the matter, Fulghum stuffed both sacks into his briefcase, kissed Molly and rushed off.
At midday, while hurriedly scarfing down his real lunch, he tore open Molly’s second bag and shook out its contents: two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny sea shell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses, and 13 pennies.
Fulghum smiled, finished eating, and swept the desk clean – into the wastebasket – leftover lunch, Molly’s junk and all.
That evening, Molly ran up behind him as he read the paper.
“Where’s my bag?”
“You know, the one I gave you this morning.”
“I left it at the office. Why?”
“I forgot to put this note in it,” she said. “And, besides, those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like – I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back. You didn’t lose the bag, did you, Daddy?”
“Oh, no,” he said, lying. “I just forgot to bring it home. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”
While Molly hugged her father’s neck, he unfolded the note that had not made it into the second paper bag she gave him: “I love you, Daddy.”
Molly had given him her treasures. All that a 7-year-old held dear. Love in a paper bag, and he missed it – not only missed it, but had thrown it in the wastebasket. So back he went to the office. Just ahead of the night janitor, he picked up the wastebasket and poured the contents on his desk.
After washing the mustard off the dinosaurs and spraying the whole thing with breath-freshener to kill the smell of onions, he carefully smoothed out the wadded ball of brown paper, put the treasures inside and carried it home gingerly, like and injured kitten. The bag didn’t look so good, but the stuff was all there and that’s what counted.
After dinner, he asked Molly to tell him about the stuff in the sack. It took a long time to tell.
Everything had a story or a memory or was attached to dreams and imaginary friends. Fairies had brought some of the things. He had given her the chocolate kisses, and she had kept them for when she needed them.
“Sometimes I think of all the times in this sweet life,” Fulghum concludes the story, “when I must have missed the affection I was being given. A friend calls this ‘standing knee deep in the river and dying of thirst.’ ”
A true story of Robert Fulghum and his 7-year-old daughter Molly