My grandfather is on his life bed. I thought beds were for sleeping and dreaming instead of for living. Maybe that’s the difference between grandparents and grandkids. Grandsons maybe don’t like their beds as much as old grandpas like them. Grandfather George might prefer bed now because he’s already lived all life has to offer. Seriously, the man is seventy-seven! Me, well, I’m only seven. I’ve got lots and lots of stuff to see every new day. I don’t prefer the bed life; I prefer everything else beyond my bedroom. Maybe Grandpa George will get over his cold soon, off of his life bed, and we can play together in my backyard like we used to.
The hospital is a peculiar place. A lot of the workers are dressed the same. There are these lounge areas where people look hopelessly bored. Oh, and there is a gift shop with candy on the cheap! So many life beds I notice as I walk down the hallways. Some are empty, but many others are occupied with people who are getting better and better all of the time. The cafeteria’s french fries aren’t as good as Wendy’s fries. Honestly, though, they’re still french fries, which means they still have good qualities to them. There’s just no such thing as a bad fry. If I tried to list all of the peculiar stuff about the hospital, I could probably write an entire book. Grandfather George likes books. Maybe I’ll write him one someday when I’m a lot older and I get to go off to college. Yeah, maybe!
I’ve been trying to think up a cool gift for Grandpa George, but the stuff I think is cool might not seem like too much fun to him. I’m all about remote control race cars! And plastic dinosaurs! And chocolate bars the size of my face! I just don’t know what he’s all about, though. I mean, I know he likes books. But who’s his favorite writer? This cool gift idea is complicated. I want to get it right.
Dad and I are at home and getting ready to go see grandpa again. “What do you think would be a neat gift for grandpa?” I ask my dad.
“Oh, you don’t have to get him anything, buddy,” Dad says. “He isn’t expecting you to do that.”
“What do you mean, pal?”
“Grandpa George not expecting a present is what will make it so special! It’ll be an unexpected gift to brighten his days while he’s on his life bed!”
Dad looks at me like I’m a boy genius. I can see the pride in his brown eyes. “That’s very thoughtful of you, Joseph,” Dad says. “I’ll be thinking up some great gift ideas you can afford on your allowance.”
“My bulldog bank is full!” I know a lot of kids have piggy banks. But not me! I have this awesome bulldog bank. It’s huge! Honestly, it’s like five times as big as a lot of piggy banks I’ve seen.
A look of shock overwhelms Dad’s eyes. “How much have you got saved up, champ?”
“Only about a thousand dollars,” I say.
“Whoa, Joseph!” Dad says.
I laugh loudly. “I was only teasing, Dad! I have about fifty dollars. You know, it’s my life savings after all.”
Dad laughs. “Boy, when I was your age, I was lucky to have five dollars in my turtle bank.”
“You had a turtle bank?!”
“Sure did! His name was Thomas. I’d turn him on his back to get to the secret compartment where the cash was hid!”
“Thomas?” I say. “I never thought to give my bulldog a name. Maybe I could start calling him Bosco.”
“Bosco,” Dad says. “What a cool name.”
Then Dad and I talk some more about Thomas the turtle and Bosco the bulldog and what the perfect present might be. Dad says I shouldn’t spend my entire life savings on the life bed gift. He says Grandfather George will enjoy anything I give him. Apparently, it’s the thought that counts or something like that. I think I’m determined to give grandpa the greatest gift in the entire history of the world’s most fantastic gifts. That is what I think.
Dad reminds me to buckle my seatbelt as we get in the car to make another trip to the hospital. I like car rides. It’s fun to look out of the window with wonder. Sometimes grown-ups seem to forget how to wonder. They get stressed, angry, or depressed. What happens to their sense of wonder? Why can’t they just remember to enjoy the moment and the beautiful colors of the autumn leaves as they fall from the trees? I wonder how tall the biggest tree in the world is and how many leaves fall from it every fall. It would be fun to make a pile out of all of those leaves and jump in them!
I stop thinking about autumn wonders and start thinking of other wonders. What will my life be like three years from now when I’m a ten-year-old-double-digit boy? Why is chocolate milk so much better than non-chocolate milk or the dreaded skim milk? How is it that Dad almost always has an answer to my questions? What would it be like to have my own miniature car and get to cruise around the block in it? Why are girls so mysterious? Why do they call tiny candy bars fun-size when any wise boy knows large candy bars possess the most amount of per-dollar fun? Why are grown-ups always angry on TV news shows? If all people in all places took a nap everyday from 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm would people be nicer to each other? Will second grade be easier than first? Does that team from Chicago ever get to win another world series? Are the best things in life really free? How many gallons of chocolate milk could I buy with my life savings? And how much longer is it until we get to the hospital?
A few minutes later, we arrive to see grandpa. Dad and I get out of the car and journey into the hospital. On up to the fourth floor by elevator we ride. Room 410 is our destination. We arrive to find grandpa sitting in a cozy-looking chair beside his bed. He’s got his reading glasses on and a large book with him.
“What are you reading, grandpa?” I say.
“The book of Luke,” he says. “I enjoyed Jesus’ parables as a young man. But as an old man, I attain more riches and wisdom from them. You just have to love that prodigal son. God almighty, what a buffoon! Yet his father loved him anyway, welcomed him back home, and threw one heaven of a party for him. I always have enjoyed the stories where the underdog gets a second chance and comes out on top. The miracle stories, Joseph, those are the greatest stories alive.”
“Alive?” I say. “How is a story alive? Aren’t stories just words on paper?”
“Stories are much more than mere black ink on white paper,” Grandfather George says. “The man who writes them is full of life. The woman who pens them places her heart on the page. The boy who first scribbles does so with a wild fiasco surging through his fingertips. The girl composing her first thank-you note weighs her words like they are precious gold. Yes, my boy, all stories, all writings have life in them.”
“Wow! That’s cool, Grandpa!”
“Joseph, if you want to live forever, you should become a writer. Your words will live on after you. Are you a reader?”
“I know how to read!” I say.
“Do you practice what you know?” Grandpa says.
I scratch my head and think for a few moments. “Well, I haven’t much yet, but I’ll start. What book should I read first?”
Grandpa George looks at me with serious eyes. His face shines with joy. He looks like a boy full of wonder. “One of the beautiful aspects of being able to read is the individual choice of what to read,” he says. “I cannot choose for you. All of my favorite books I could name for you. This doesn’t mean they should become your favorites. No, when you get to be my age, your list will look quite different. You’ll find out if you’re a mystery man or a child of science fiction or a lover of the classics. Your favorite writers and inspirations will be different than mine. Joseph, you have your own unique soul. The story of your life is only beginning; the books you’ll read are on the first page. Don’t settle for TV and computer games. Be a thinker, a dreamer, and a reader.”
“Maybe I’ll have Dad take me to the library soon!”
“That’s right, Captain,” Dad says. “We’ll go anytime you’d like.”
Grandpa sure is wise. All this reading and writing talk is so interesting. “When do you get off of your life bed?” I ask him. “Once you’re back home, you could go to the library with us!”
My grandfather looks sad as light leaves his eyes. I understand something I didn’t understand before. Grandpa is old, and this is a hospital. Room 410 isn’t a happy place. It isn’t a place of beginnings or where stories take off to get started. This room and bed is where stories end. I’m in a sad place, and grandpa is dying.
Dad looks at me and says, “Let’s let Grandpa George rest; we’ll come back and see him again tomorrow.”
Light enters my grandfather’s eyes. “Joseph, your story is beginning, and mine is ending. I’m happy we could share a few years and many good times together. You’ve been a great grandson and a dear friend.”
Before we leave the hospital, I have one more thing I must say. “Grandpa, I wanted to get you a gift, but I didn’t know what to get you.” I start to grow sad. I’m without words.
Grandpa’s face shines. “This is all I ask from you as a gift,” he says. “Be one of a kind instead of a copy. When the other kids are being mean, you be kind. As you grow older and everyone else is getting drunk, you stay sober. In college, choose what you’d love to study instead of what could make you a lot of money. Hang out with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John when most others fail to believe in miracles. When the crowd is going nowhere, you turn the other direction and go somewhere. If you stand alone, then stand tall. Be good and practice love. Upon finishing one book, begin another the very next day. Leave this world better than you found it. Finally, I want you to laugh and smile all of the time. If you do these things, then you’ve given me and everyone else you meet along the way an incredible gift.”
I smile. “An incredible gift is exactly what I’ll give!” I walk over and hug Grandpa George before Dad and I leave the hospital.
Dad says, “I know you’ll keep that promise, Joseph.”
About the Author
Jonathon Brooks will always be an English major at heart. He is a man about the town of Carbondale, Illinois. He owns several fancy hats and can be seen around Southern Illinois wearing them often.