Summary: When Mr. Morris’s granddaughter is sent to Elwood City after his death to look into a storage unit of his, she had no idea what to expect. She thought he’d moved everything to New Mexico when he left, and she didn’t see how he would have anything of value anyway. What she discovers is a vast unit with valuables too stunning to ignore. One-shot. R&R.
She didn’t understand it. The storage unit was in the heart of Elwood City, costing her grandfather thousands every year. It was one of the largest in the facility, and when she opened the door, she could only sense the size. The door was wide and tall, but it was what the unit held that she couldn’t wrap her head around.
When Grandpa John moved back to Arizona, she was happy to get to know him. “Finally!” she cried when he arrived, and she genuinely meant it. She didn’t know what had kept him away from home, but she knew she never wanted him to leave again. She’d finally met him, finally gotten her chance to get to know him.
But John Morris wanted desperately to get back to Elwood City, away from his family. She didn’t understand any of it. What could possibly be there that was so important? All he ever talked about was Lakewood Elementary, Elwood City, and names she didn’t know and likely never would. His mind was starting to go as soon as he got there, and he only grew progressively worse for the two years he spent in their home.
After two years, the family had no choice but to place him in a facility. His dementia caused him to turn on burners without remembering or leave pots unattended on the stove. Luckily no accidents happened, but when he accidentally wandered off the property, they had to do something to help him. He was placed in a home, and then a routine doctor’s appointment revealed John Morris’s death blow. He had cancer in several places—prostate, liver, kidneys, and beyond. It was spreading fast and there was nothing they could do.
Her mother couldn’t put her father through the torture of chemo, so they watched him die in an overly pleasant room in a hospice facility. She hated it, but she knew it would open some doors. She knew they’d end up with his things, and the will only confirmed this. Six months later, she was at his prize possession, one he left solely to his seventeen-year-old granddaughter with no stipulations. Her mother had plenty, but she knew her daughter had a purpose now. She’d take the key and the instructions to Elwood City, alone, and she’d come back after three days with answer. Travel, answers, travel. Nothing more, nothing less.
Now those answers stood before her in a storage unit larger than the first floor of her family’s home. What could possibly be inside?
When the door was raised, she was shocked at how neat the facility was. She watched Storage Wars on a regular basis and knew that wasn’t always the case when you opened up some untouched room. This wasn’t one of those, and she knew that right away. No one had visited in over three years, the extra months coming from his time spent nursing his broken leg before his trip west. But it was clean all the same, and this was surprising.
As she weaved through the walkways and eyed the boxes on the shelves, she realized everything was meticulously cataloged by year, no, with further details on some. May 1986 was an important year with a box all its own. She could only imagine what was inside, but first she had to walk around. She had to see how much there was to see.
She recognized the dates when she found the initial one. The box was from the same month he would’ve started at Lakewood Elementary, a job he felt proud about. He talked about it endlessly, but never the boxes.
Now that he was gone, she had to look inside. She went back to May 1986 and pulled it down. She moved underneath one of the many lights in the room and opened the top. Dust flew off, but her eyes were locked on the contents: Yearbooks, tons of them.
After digging through them all—there had to be at least 20—she found an index card with her grandfather’s handwriting:
MAY 1986. TOO MANY YEARBOOKS. LIBRARY KEPT HALF, OTHERS GOT TOSSED.
The notation was simple, but she immediately understood what was in those boxes, or so she thought. Her first idea was that her grandfather pulled things out of the garbage. But after putting up the May box and grabbing the Fall 1989 box, she realized it was much different.
Matchbox cars and Barbie outfits, strange rocks and chewed-on pencils, each item was wrapped with ribbon and had a note attached. She picked up a headless Barbie with a ribbon around her neck. She fumbled for the note and read it carefully:
UNDER THE JUNGLE GYM AFTER 1ST GRADE RECESS. COULD BE SARAH’S OR EMILY’S.
She put down the Barbie carefully. It was headless but precious, she decided, before picking up a matchbox car that was missing its right front wheel:
GIFT FROM ART TEACHER. BOBBY MARTIN’S. WHEEL BROKE AND DEEMED UNFIXABLE.
The other items were the same. The pencil was lost in the cafeteria after fourth grade’s lunch, the lost Barbie outfit was found in the kindergarten room after hours three days after it was lost. Each one was notated, and if he knew whose it might be, he added a name or initials.
She moved forward in time. She saw the fads as they happened, Pet Rocks and Tomagachis. She found N’Sync folders and other items tucked away, all lost by students and found or donated by teachers. It was an amazing sight, but she had to pull away. She’d lost three hours looking through things, but she needed real answers.
As she stepped into the Sugar Bowl, she recognized Principal Haney from the signature blue suit in his photographs. She slid across from him and found a plate of fries before him. He gestured for her to join him, and her starvation took over. She ate mindlessly until there was a huge hole on the plate free from fries. She blushed self-consciously and wiped her mouth from a napkin she pulled from the shiny dispenser at the head of the table.
“I found something today that I need answers about,” she said when she was ready.
Principal Haney smiled, “I know already. John told me about his collection and that he was going to make sure someone very important ended up with it. I assume now that he meant you.”
“Yes,” she smiled, looking up as a Coke was place beside her. She thanked the deliver from afar with a nod as she took a deep sip. “It’s filled with items from all the way back, I guess. I don’t know exactly when he started.”
“He told me he only started collecting a year after he started. There were so many forgotten items he discovered, and soon teachers noticed and added specimens. It was a sight, but I always wondered what he did with the items. Were they in his home?”
“No, he packed up everything and sent it our way, but most of it he donated to local thrift stores and charities,” she replied before telling him about the unit.
Haney’s eyes lit up, “An entire unit filled with items? I know what I have to do,” he said, pulling out a smartphone. He didn’t narrate his actions, but after some tapping and buzzing as she continued to inhale fries, he asked if she’d be there the next night. Teenaged rebellion took over and she gladly said she would be.
Candles lit up the evening. Rebellion only went so far, and John Morris’s daughter was there among the crowd. When her daughter told her, she knew she had to be there. She knew it would be special even if Haney was being so secretive.
People were everywhere. Former students mingled with former educators, all of them chatting about the janitor they all knew and loved, gone too soon. Some of the students were still kids, their parents gathering as the children mingled with their friends. John’s family felt for them, but they were hurting all the same: This community knew their father and grandfather, but they did not.
Soon the ceremony started, and Principal Haney used a very temperamental megaphone to give a speech to the crowd. The storage unit was behind him, closed from public eyes, but soon it was opened, and Haney himself accepted boxes from a woman identified as the school’s secretary, Mrs. Tingley.
Every box was opened, its contents held up and photographed by some of the young kids, a boy in a grey sweater they realized was named Brain. Then the note was read, and a smart-looking girl with frizzy hair typed the note into a small laptop. This pattern repeated, and they couldn’t help but notice small gasps from people who realized those items were theirs.
But none were returned to their original owners. They were the items of John Morris, tucked away as a time capsule for others to retrieve years later. This was something that had to continue, and soon the nature of that phone call was revealed.
Boxes were not returned to the unit. Instead they were carefully placed into a U-Haul and taken to Lakewood Elementary, where a small unused classroom was going to become a museum to the items. Each one would be showcased online thanks to Brain and Sue Ellen’s works, but only one set at a time would be displayed in the room. Visitors could schedule times to come in and see the items, but none would leave. They were John Morris’s, and now Lakewood Elementary would see to the well-being of those items personally.
His daughter and granddaughter were grateful for the kind gesture, but soon they were heading back home, their hearts heavy with memories and the regret of not being there. But at least they knew how happy he was, and how much his work affected him, as well as the community he served.
A/N: For my Summer 100 One-Shot Challenge. Hope you guys enjoyed this. Can also be found on my ff.net account here.