The Gift of Not Receiving

It was a party at my grandparents’ house in Cleveland’s West Park area. This was my mom’s side of the family.

Grandpa was beaming, ready to hand his two oldest grandsons surprise gifts. One gift was a kite and the other one was a…

Nobody remembers because we both wanted the kite!

My grandparents were working-class folks who had a happiness that money can’t buy. But Grandpa’s happy face quickly mangled into shock, confusion, and then horror as my cousin and I battled back and forth with dueling words of “I want it – No, I want it!”

It was a noisy and crowded room but my dad must have noticed the hurt in my grandpa’s wordless expression.

Dad leaned over and whispered to me, “Smile, take the other toy, and say thank you.”

I looked away from the kite and up to Dad with a facial plea to reconsider but in an instant, I saw, clearly, it was the right thing to do.

I promptly complied. As soon as I did, relief spread across Grandpa’s face and suddenly I was happier than the kite would have made me.

At least that’s what I told myself.

Dad always helped people out. He basically knew everything about a home, landscaping, animals, plants, astronomy, you name it. I don’t know what he had done for his father-in-law this time but Grandpa was very appreciative and offered my dad money while we were piling into the car to go home.

“No-no, I can’t accept that,” Dad said, clasping his hands behind his back when Grandpa tried to jab the cash into his hand.

“I insist,” Grandpa said.

“I just can’t,” Dad replied, shutting the back car door. I looked out the window intrigued by this benevolence Dad was displaying. First, the kite, now cash, why does he turn away such great things, I wondered.

“Come on, just take it.”

“No, I’m just happy to help.” Dad got in the car, waved, and said, “Goodbye.”

As we backed into the street, Grandma was on the front steps making her signature two-handed “peace sign” wave goodbye that we would come to remember her fondly by.

Dad’s refusal to accept a reward for good deeds left a strong impression on me.

Not long after, we were visiting my dad’s parents at their home in a neighborhood near Cleveland’s Edgewater Park. Dad’s family was huge and many people visited weekly but we must have been the first ones there on this particular Sunday.

I sat on the couch across the room from Grandpa. He got up from his chair, something I rarely saw him leave, and walked toward me holding out a silver dollar. He smiled as he handed it out for me to take.

“No-no-that’s okay, Grandpa,” I said shaking my head.

He briefly held the same confused look my other grandpa had over the kite incident.

After the pause, he took a step closer, leaned in, and held the silver dollar out to me nodding that it’s okay, and said with soft insistence, “Take it.”

I smiled and slid my hands back a little on the couch and said, “That’s okay Grandpa, you keep it.”

“Whattaya think I am some stranger off the street!” He was upset and I didn’t know why.

The only thing I knew was that I was hurting his feelings by not taking it so I reached out, took it, smiled, and said, “Thank you.”

I could tell the moment for him was ruined. He sat back down and my dad walked into the room and sat next to me completely oblivious to what just transpired. Everyone was silent for a while.

For the longest time, I didn’t understand when to accept things or not.

Excerpt from the memoir book, Here I Thought I Was Normal,
by Frank Rocco Satullo

Share this with: