From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

Grandpa’s Gift

Grandpa Louie was quite positively the most respected and well-known man my young eyes had seen. His knowledge of what seemed to be everyone in town was spectacular. Growing up, I watched him answer every question with references, intellect and backing and thrust his love upon each and every person without any need of the love being returned. His volunteer coaching career spanned nearly fifty years, and children were his passion. Loving others was certainly his calling.

But Grandpa Louie didn’t do as he did for the return of love, and when he was given a gift, either in thanks or for any certain gift-giving occasion, he frequently had trouble accepting it. I remember it being nearly impossible to purchase anything for him.

One Christmas, while I was still very young, I decided that I wanted to be able to give each member of my family a gift. Being the age I was, I didn’t have much money of my own. Most of my gifts were handmade. But Grandpa’s I bought. It was a red glossy key chain that simply said “Grandpa.” I do not recall how much or how little I spent on the silly little gift, but I was quite proud. One can only imagine how disappointed I was when Grandpa opened it with his characteristic half scowl, nodded at me and then set it aside. This was just his way, but I was too young to understand how every present could not be means for celebration!

Years passed and somehow I never saw Grandpa’s keys or the key chain. He kept them in his pocket, and I was too afraid to ask what had happened to the little red Christmas gift. But I always looked for glimpses when he would arrive at our house with a car full of groceries as a surprise. He brought fruits and vegetables for my mother, ice cream for me and licorice for my brothers. Each time I looked, though, his keys were in his pocket or somewhere out of my sight.

Grandpa grew older, and with time his health declined. His mind and ability to tell stories, however, refused to do the same. One day he seemed worse than ever before, and we quickly took him to the hospital. He had horrid cramps in his legs and had pneumonia. After being checked out, he returned to our family farm to recover. My father took me aside and asked if I would be able to help Grandpa regain his strength at the gym. By this point I was working at a local health club and had dedicated myself to bodybuilding. I gladly accepted the task.

The following weekend Grandpa still had not regained his health, but I visited him nonetheless to talk to him about our personal training sessions. Grandpa sat up in his chair with a tube in his nose, unshaven. I had never seen him unshaven or dressed in such shoddy clothing, since appearance always was important to him. Something wasn’t right, but Grandpa smiled anyway. He told me that he heard I was going to be his personal trainer, a thought I beamed at. Then he proceeded to tell me that I would need to pick him up—me, who had just turned sixteen—since he could not drive, and that I should use his car. Then he offered his car to me when he died. I was emotionally torn. I could not imagine my life without Grandpa in it. He then reached into his pocket, brought forth his hand and advised me to go get acquainted with the vehicle. In his hand shined a set of car keys accompanied by an old gray key chain.

Grandpa went back to the hospital later that morning. He slipped into a coma he never came out of. Later that night he died.

The mourning quickly funneled through my family to all in the community. Hundreds upon hundreds showed up for the funeral.

And me? I drove to the funeral in an old, beat-up Mercury, courtesy of Grandpa. At the steering column dangled my own set of keys, with an old gray key chain attached firmly. If you looked closely enough you could still see the little red specks of paint that had clung on all of those years where the word “Grandpa” used to be.

It was the first present I ever gave Grandpa, and the last one he ever gave me.

Cazzey Louis Cereghino

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