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Rated: E · Short Story · Inspirational · #803245
A granddaughter helps a grandad measure his worth
The Ride Home

         "Grandpa, you’re rich," was the remark that came out of the blue from his eight-year-old granddaughter.

         They had just finished a grandpa/granddaughter lunch and were leaving the restaurant. Lauren had stationed herself by one of the myriad vending machines located by the exit. You know, the ones that dispense candy, gadgets, and general junk. Her grandpa had given her the quarter to feed the machine, an act that was quickly becoming a tradition when they had these "dates".

         "Now why do you say that, Lauren?" was his surprised response.

         "Because you’ve got that big house and all that money," was her quick answer.

         He did not respond. He just smiled at her and tenderly caressed her hair with his hand. "Let’s go home," he said.

         He thought, "How do I respond to her allusion to my personal wealth? My banker and I both know that I am definitely not rich."

         He quickly concluded that he did not need to respond with anything at all. Her statement was just that, a statement not a question. Anyway, how does one set the record straight with a child that has no concept of personal wealth or finance beyond the quarter she just used to buy a hand full of "Runts".

         However, her statement, brief and innocent as it was, entrenched itself in his consciousness and simply would not dislodge its stubborn hold there. He assumed that Lauren’s measurement of his wealth was influenced by the fact that he and his wife lived in a two-story house twice the size of the one in which she lived. He recalled also that they lavished this brown-eyed princess with multiple presents at each Christmas of her life, those that she did not remember as well as those that she did. On her birthday they always purchased a Madam Alexander doll for her. They kept the box and placed the doll in the display cabinet just like they did with grandma’s dolls. Dan and Linda envisioned her at sixteen, treasuring her sixteen dolls in the glass case that they purchased for that purpose, just to display them. Whenever they returned from a vacation or from some stay in a distant city, because of a conference or seminar, they always brought her treasures from those "far-away" places.

         "You’re going to spoil that child," Linda was consistently affirming. The fact was that she was already spoiled. He could only spoil her more. And that was his intent from the very day that she was born, from the moment he had held her in his arms in the very first hour of her life.

         That was the way it was. He gave lavishly and unashamedly. It was no wonder, he mused, that at the tender age of eight she had come to the obvious conclusion that her grandpa was indeed a rich man. But he knew that he was anything but rich. It certainly appeared to the uninformed that he was "well to do", if not wealthy. But just like everyone else he had debts and debtors reminding him regularly of that fact. The only difference was that even though he made a great sum of money annually he also paid out a great sum of money, which meant he was simply treading water.

         Lauren ran ahead of him across the parking lot to their waiting car. She had the hand full of Runts that would undoubtedly become sticky and require a wash rag to clean the leather upholstery of the car. But that was a worthwhile price to pay. When she stopped at the car door she turned around to wait on him; and then she smiled at him. It was a familiar smile. It was such an easy gift for her to give; and he gladly added it to his treasury.

         Dan worked hard all his life. His early jobs were manual labor in the oilfields of Louisiana, which was mostly offshore from New Orleans. It was dirty work. The money was good, if you were single and your needs did not extend further than your car and your girlfriend. It was in the oilfields where he had determined that he should finish college. One memorable, swelteringly hot day he had been observing the old driller, the supervisor of the four-man crew. Perspiration was beaded on the old driller's forehead and his denim shirt was soaked with sweat. Even though he worked an honorable day’s work, the sixty-year-old driller had little to show for those years he had labored in the oilfields. It struck Dan that in this older man he had a glimpse of his future. And so he purposed to get himself out of this work.

         It was not easy. Both his mother and father died in their fifties as a result of bad hearts. His parents had divorced during the time of their sicknesses and all the wealth that his father had gathered was spent on medical bills or frittered away wastefully. They left him without a penny of inheritance, which did not matter to him. However, without financial help from his parents, Dan had worked hard to pay his own way through school, first undergraduate school and then graduate school. Over the span of thirty years he and his wife, Linda, managed to build a business that was both respectable and a credit to the community. Some folks would look at him today and call it luck. Dan knew better. He remembered all the sacrifices that he and his family made over all those years to ensure that luck.

         "Grandpa, can you play the Tarzan CD?" Lauren asked expectantly.

         "Sure, Honey," he responded.

         He kept it loaded as one of the five possible discs for just this occasion. As the chorus of "You’ll Be in My Heart" filled the car, he could hear her voice join Phil Collins with the tune:

         "…Cause you’ll be in my heart
         Yes, you’ll be in my heart
         From this day on
         Now and forever more…"

         It wasn’t a perfect voice. In fact he doubted if it would ever grace a CD cover of its own. But just the sound of her singing lifted his heart. Surely it was better than any prescription that his cardiologist could provide. It was certainly beyond value.

         Recently, his own health had declined. A week’s stay in the hospital resulting in heart surgery reminded him of his own mortality and of how frail life certainly was. All the sacrifices of a lifetime culminated in one simple pain in his chest. If he were to be forced to retire at this time, there was no way that he could make the monthly obligations that had come with his accelerated life-style, which was not extravagant but certainly costly. His friends of the same age worked for other companies or governmental agencies and had generous retirement plans to look forward to. All that Dan was able to do was to put away a year's salary in stocks. His only hope was that he would be able to sell the company that he had built for a considerable sum. But that was certainly no guarantee. Was he rich? No, it did not feel that way.

         Dan learned a long time ago, however, that his feelings did not "drive the train". In other words, it did not matter how he felt about any given issue. His feelings were not the controlling factors. What really mattered were the facts. And so, as he and Lauren drove home, he methodically began to assemble the facts pertaining to his position in life regarding wealth. This was no easy accomplishment, since he still owed an honest portion of his attention to a chattering and singing eight-year-old darling sitting next to him.

         They turned the corner of her street. Lauren’s house came into view.

         "There’s Kyle!" she squealed. "I think he’s gonna be my boyfriend." She giggled and looked at her grandpa with a look that told him that he had just become the recipient of privileged information.

         She let him into her world on a special status. How envious he was of Kyle and the myriad of Kyles who would likely follow and appropriate a measure of her affection. But how blessed he felt that at that moment, early in her life, he was among the first to be included among her closest confidants. He knew it would not always be so. Once again he walked to the treasury of his heart and deposited this small token there.

         It was just a short ride home from their lunch date. But in that short time Dan measured his personal worth. His troubled youth, the loss of his parents, all of his hard work and personal sacrifice had not guaranteed financial security. From that viewpoint, his future was still limited after a lifetime of efforts. But tucked in there among all of the sacrifice were Linda, who had been his wife of thirty-five years, and his own children, of whom he was very proud. And, of course, there was Lauren. It was in Lauren that he could see the promise of an enchanted and fulfilled future. One that would pay dividends of love and meaning well beyond his days. His heart smiled and the conclusion was obvious now that the facts were accounted for. He could rightly affirm that, even though his bank account did not rival the truly wealthy, he was blessed. He was blessed in ways that were far more lasting than securities and real estate. Every time Lauren smiled at him, he was rewarded. She paid him dividends measured in hugs and kisses; and with each one his personal wealth was increased. He knew then what he would say at the very next time the opportunity presented itself, when Lauren alluded that her Grandpa was rich. He knew he would surely say, "Yes Darlin’, Grandpa is very, very rich."
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