It was Abbi’s tenth birthday party when she received the greatest gift of her life. Though she didn’t know it then. After she opened all of her presents she couldn’t help but notice her favorite person in the world did not give her a gift. Her Grandpa Joe.
“Abbi. Come outside with me for a minute. I have something to give you,” Grandpa said.
A big smile crossed her face as she thought, it must be something really big he couldn’t wrap.
He reached for a simple envelope in his car and handed it to her. “There is no greater gift I can give to you my sweet girl. Treasure this. Always keep it close. A day will come when it will change your life.”
Abbi opened the unsealed envelope and found a small key attached to a simple rope chain. She took it from the envelope. “I don’t understand, Grandpa. A key? A key to what?”
Grandpa laughed. His usual highly contagious, guttural laugh. He picked her up in his arms and nearly squeezed the life from her. “Promise me you will keep this safe. When you are older this key will change everything for you.”
“I promise. Is it a bank key with lots of money? Or a key to my house I will have when I’m a grownup?”
“Oh no, my sweet granddaughter. It’s far more valuable than that. I wanted to give this to you now because I am getting older by the day. And of all my children and grandchildren you will benefit the most from it. Of that, I am sure.”
“Okay, Grandpa. I will keep it with all my other treasures in my special hiding place.”
Her twenty-fifth birthday was three weeks away. It was going to be her worst birthday. Abbi was holding on to her husband’s arm for dear life as they walked up to the coffin to say their last respects. She looked down at the man who resembled her Grandpa Joe. But it wasn’t him. The light that shone so brightly from within him was gone. Memories came flooding back. Sitting in his lap as he read to her. The first time he took her ice skating. Teaching her how to play guitar. The man had the patience of a saint. Always being there for her school plays. For all her graduations. Her wedding. For her life. And now he’s gone. She promised herself she wouldn’t cry at the service. It was a promise she failed to keep as she buried her face in her husband’s chest. He’ll never meet our children.
She went to her father, the spitting image of his father, Grampa Joe. “Oh, dad,” she said as they hugged each other tightly. He nearly squeezed the breath from her. Stirring another unforgettable memory. More tears.
Mom came to the rescue. Grabbing Abbi’s hand she said, “Come with me. I have something for you.” They stepped outside of the funeral home and went to her parent’s car. Her mom reached in and handed her the manilla envelope she had grabbed. “Your Grandfather gave us this on your tenth birthday. He asked that we give it to you upon his death. He said you will know what to do with it.”
Abbi was dumbstruck. My tenth birthday? The memory of that day came flooding back like a tidal wave. She had forgotten all about the key she was gifted with that day. But I know where it is! “Oh, mom,” she said while she squeezed her mom.
“What is it, honey? Do you know what’s in the envelope?”
“On my tenth birthday, Grampa gave me a key. He told me it was the greatest gift he could give me. To keep it safe. And that I would understand when I got older. I had forgotten all about that key. I’m guessing now that I’m older there is information in the envelope about the key.”
“Well, that sounds like something your grandfather would do. Let’s get back inside before our husbands get lost without us,” her mom said while trying to lighten the mood.
“What’s that?” Abbi’s husband Steve asked while pointing at the envelope.
“It’s a long story. If it’s okay with you I will tell you tonight when we get home.”
“No problem, Pooh.” She inherited that nickname when they first started dating when Steve found out she was a big Winnie The Pooh fan. She warned him back then to never use it in public.
Abbi and Steve arrived home late that evening. Emotionally drained and physically exhausted. They lay intertwined on the bed. Glad to be home. “I can tell your mind is going a mile a minute. What’s up?” he inquired.
“I can’t get my mind off that envelope.”
“So, open it. Do you want me to get it?”
“No. It can wait until tomorrow. I won’t get any sleep if I open it now.” They were both asleep in minutes.
Steve awakened to an empty bed. Slipping from the bed, he threw on some sweats and went on a wife hunt.
After searching everywhere, he looked in the basement as a last resort. There he found his wife. Surrounded by boxes she had brought with her when they bought the house. “I can’t find it, Steve. I can’t find the treasure box I kept when I was little. The key was in that box,” she mumbled.
“Let me help. Was it a cardboard box?”
“No. It was a treasure box my Grampa bought me when I was very young.” Drawing a picture in the air for Steve she said, “It was this big.” It had a keyhole with a key. All my treasures were in there.”
“Well, not all of them,” as he moved in to kiss her.
“Okay. So maybe not,” she smiled in response.
“Are you sure you moved it? Could it still be at your parent’s house?”
“I’m pretty sure I got everything out of there. It’s got to be here somewhere.”
“It’s okay. We will find it. Why don’t we do this? I’ll throw some breakfast together and you can see what’s in the envelope?”
“Breakfast sounds good. I like your plan.”
She sat at the table while Steve was creating pleasing aromas. Opening the envelope, she dumped the contents onto the table. “Oh my God. I can’t believe this! He saved every birthday card I ever sent him.” She stood up and took a card over to show Steve. “Look at this. I had to be like four or five.”
Steve looked at the card while Abbi leaned against him. It was no surprise that Winnie The Pooh took center stage in it. Hape berday Gapa was written in purple crayon. Her tears were streaming down his bare chest. “Wow. He really cherished you,” was his only response.
Mixed in with the cards she found a handwritten letter. She read the letter to her husband.
I have loved you since the day you were born. Some things in life are unexplainable. Love is certainly one of those. Those instant love connections between two strangers. You shared with me the love you felt for Steve the instant you met him. I knew then you would marry him and have a wonderful life together. I knew the very first time I laid eyes on you that we would share a special bond. The key I gave you long ago is the key to this bond between us. I know if you are reading this I have moved on to better and brighter things. Don’t be sad for me. I am having the most amazing time with your grandmother. Now, down to business. You will find a small chest in the workroom of my basement. That key I gave you will open the chest. Do you remember what I told you when I gave you the key? That it will be the greatest gift you will ever receive? I might have exaggerated a bit. But not much. I hope Steve is reading this with you. I have inside information your family will be growing soon. Wonderful gifts are in your future. I’ve already met your children. I love you. I’ve always loved you. I will love you forever.
PS. If you lost the key just break the latch open. I won’t be needing it anymore.
Tom brought their plates over and kissed the top of her head before sitting down. “I should have bought stock in Kleenex,” he said while handing her a box. “Eat before it gets cold. Shit. We’re going to have kids. I mean that in a good way. He met our children?”
Taking a bite of the omelet Tom conjured up she said, “You should have been a chef. I’m so grateful I married a man who could cook. If you teach our children I may never have to cook again,” she joked.
“Uhm, no. As long as I’m alive you will be required to make your Chicken a la King.”
“Okay,” she laughed. “I suppose if I must. I’m going to shower before getting back to the search.”
“Yeah. I need a shower as well. I’m feeling dirty,” he said with a devious smile.
After some well-deserved sexual recreation, they both returned to the basement to search for the key. After hearing Abbi say time after time “I can’t believe I saved this stuff,” she jumped up with the key in her hand. “YES! I FOUND IT! Come on Steve. We need to get to Grampa’s house and find that chest.”
“This is hard,” she said as she unlocked the front door to enter her Grampa’s house for what could be the last time. She stood just inside the door. Scanning the room she knew so well. Trying to leave a mental image in her mind she would never forget. The painting of her grandmother as a young woman. Family photos scattered everywhere. And the Grampa smells. His scent was everywhere. Steve took her hand. “Come on, Pooh. Let’s go downstairs and find this treasure chest.”
In just minutes they found a small chest with a lock on it. The key given to Abbi years ago slid in easily. “I feel like we just found a pirate treasure,” she said while opening the chest.
Within the chest were books and journals. This is the greatest treasure? She put the books aside and began to examine the journals. Her grandfather journaled his spiritual experiences. Decades worth. Sharing inner experiences while soul traveling. She was mesmerized as she lightly scanned through one of them. “My God, Tom. Are you seeing this?”
Tom sat skimming through one of the books. It was titled In My Soul I Am Free. It was a first-edition print dated 1968. He picked up another titled Stranger By The River. The print date was 1980. Skimming through it he found many highlighted passages her grandfather must have thought were significant. “Listen to this,” as he read. “As long as the mind continues with thee in its present state, even the love for the beautiful, it is pouring its God energies into the external world and unbalancing Soul’s forces. So, I tell you to turn thy energies within and receive the blessings of God. Here’s another one. How does one reach the state beyond self? That state is beyond wisdom and beyond all but love. I tell you this when you have attained wisdom and gone beyond illusion, then you shall shine forth with splendor, as doth the sun shining upon the earth.” “Wow, Pooh. Maybe your grandfather was right. Just maybe you have been given the greatest gifts one can give.”
It all began to make sense to Abbi. How nothing ever seemed to bother or upset her grampa. He always seemed to be in a state of calm. He was in awe of the simplest of things life had to offer. She realized at that moment he had always been her shining light. “I miss him more than ever. I have so many questions now.”
“Listen to this one. All things will gravitate to thee if ye will let love enter thine own heart, without compromise. Love inspires the heart, first as human love. This is the love that desires to serve its beloved, husband, wife, children, family, friends, or human ideals, and things of this world, during thy existence here in this life. Then the heart becomes refined by selflessness and love possesses thee. He never talked to you about any of this?”
“Let’s get this packed up and take this chest home. We have the rest of our lives to digest this. And Tom? Be honest with me. Is this freaking you out?”
“Absolutely! In the best way possible. Think about this, Pooh. We get to give our children the greatest gift possible. And it all came from the love your grandfather had for you.”
“Did I tell you lately how much I love you,” she said.
“Yes. In the shower this morning,” he said with the biggest grin.
Abbi bought a lovely gold chain for the key. She wears it every day.
© 2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved.
Originally published on Medium.com.