“Hey, wait. You left your book behind,” she called out. In the four months that Jamie worked for the small coffee house, she already collected a box full of things left behind. Sometimes people came back, but usually, one of the workers grabbed the item up before the owner could return. Those were the times that she bit her tongue to silence her mouth from vocalizing disapproval. It was hard enough to make friends in this small town. Jamie didn’t want to step on any toes along the way. She was the only one working in the small family-owned business that didn’t grow up in the small Oklahoma town. Those old stories about people in the small cities all being friendly was far from the truth. Ever since the day she moved to town, Jamie felt like an outcast.
“Just toss it in the box,” Stu said. Stewart John was the owner of the small place and Deacon at one of the many local churches. Monday through Saturday, he walked around acting like a Sailor on shore leave, but come Sunday morning, Stu was sitting front row at church and lying about his good Christian lifestyle. Secretly, Jamie hoped that the rustic old bible he sat on his lap was taking invisible notes of each tall tale he sold.
As she stood in the doorway, Jamie held tight to the book. Leather bound, the edges a bit frayed, there was something about it that tugged at her heart. Maybe it was her love of books that kept her fingers tight around the journal. At one point, she held so tight that she wondered if the heartbeat she felt was her own, or was this book something more than meets the eye. Of course, that was just the hopeless young girl’s wishful thinking.
“Get back to work,” Stu demanded. The moment his eyes were elsewhere, Jamie stuffed the small book into her apron, hiding it from the world around her. Why, she didn’t know, but for some reason, that beautiful treasure didn’t belong in a box with broken glasses and lost keys. Something told her that keeping this safe was more important than pleasing a grumpy old man with day-old soup staining his shirt. Even that Hawaiian shirt Stu wore couldn’t hide the remnant of split pea soup.
Three hours later, sitting in the front seat of her old beaten-up jeep, Jamie’s life changed forever. “Ouch,” she said. Yanking the little black book from her apron, she leaned the seatback to the reclining position and brought the journal to her nose. As she inhaled deeply, there it was—the scent of old paper. That smell was the very reason that she would get lost in the library for hours as a child. Reading through a device was convenient, but nothing in the world compares to turning the treasured book pages. With hands shaking, Jamie slowly opened the cover and started her journey into the world of another.
May 12th, 1972
Grandfather visited today. Instead of a happy birthday, or a hug, he handed me an envelope with 500 dollars cash. It was the way my family said I love you to each other. No cake, balloons, or even ponies, just money exchanged and dinner in dead silence. Oh, and the formal handshake when he left. I swear the moment he touched my hand. I felt nothing. Not a darn thing. I wanted to feel the warmth that I read about in books and watched on the television. The television show Leave it to Beaver spoiled all of us with their perfect family. I wished just one time that he would wrap those arms around me and tell me that he loved me.
As Jamie read, tears rolled down her cheeks in a warm stream of emotions. She didn’t know this person, but her heart ached for them. Jamie wanted nothing more than to find the owner of this book and give them a long-overdue hug that her family denied. As she got lost in emotions, she didn’t notice the five one hundred dollar bills taped to the other side of the page. Each one showing age, but not a wrinkle on the paper. It was more money than she made in a week, but it wasn’t hers to take. Anyone else would have ripped the bills from the parchment, but you value things differently when you work hard for what you get.
May 25th, 1982
I graduated from high school today. As I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, my attention was not on the paper they would hand me but the man in the crowd. Grandfather dressed for the occasion. A black suit, white shirt, and a tie. His face now showed the age of time, and in his lap, another envelope. When would he realize that money could not buy happiness? As I ran across the football field to my family, his staunch posture remained. Grandfather handed me an envelope with five thousand dollars cash inside. Not a good job, or congratulations, but a payment for attending school. All I wanted was a warm hug, but once again, money was the answer to everything.
Slamming the book shut, Jamie no longer cried. She was mad. Damn mad. How in the world could someone be so cold? Aren’t grandparents supposed to be kind? What the heck was wrong with this man? Why didn’t he love this girl? Before she could close the book, once again, Jamie noticed the thickness of the page. Five thousand dollars taped on the back of the writing, each like the others. Perfect and crisp. Dumbfounded, Jamie suddenly felt as though she needed to find this woman and hug her.
Sitting in the darkness of her car, she read the book, stopping along the way to laugh, cry, and at times, scream in anger. Each page dedicated to the woman’s grandfather, and the gift he gave her taped to the pages. It wasn’t until she reached the back page did she breakdown sobbing.
I visited my grandfather for the last time today. As he laid in his hospital bed, fighting for his breaths, I finally realized how much he loved me. His hand wrapped tight around an envelope. I watched his chest rise and fall, knowing the end was near for him. I noticed his furrowed brows soften for the first time, a slight smile curling his lips. Within minutes, he was gone. I cried but still don’t know why. My grandfather never showed me love or attention, but I knew I would forever miss him. His nurse asked me to leave, but not before handing me a final envelope. Another one, the last one, but all I ever wanted was a hug.
Mr. Dearest Michelle,
I’m gone now, but I want you to know, I may have been a crass old fart, but I hope you always knew that I loved you with all my heart. I grew up in a generation where men did not show emotions, but we made sure family always came first. I could often see the disappointment in your eyes when I handed you a small token of my love. I’m sorry it was never enough to show how much love I have for you, but know that this old man was your biggest fan.
Slamming the book shut, Jamie erupted in a river of tears. It was as though she felt every single emotion that family shared today. With the book on her lap, Jamie sat in her beat-down old car wishing for a miracle. Why couldn’t just one time this woman have the hug that she deserved? One last time she opened the book—this time to the last page, the one written to her.
To whoever finds this book, please read every word written. On the back of the pages is the money my grandfather gave me. Please keep it as a token of a life well-lived. You see, I married, had four children, and eight grandchildren. Each one of them knows what love is because of this old woman. I may have struggled more than most, but I loved harder as well. Please use this twenty thousand dollars to follow your dreams, chase your rainbows, and, if needed, get that pony for your birthday. All I ask is that you never forget to tell people you love them while they can still hear you.
A recovering soul.