101-year-old Patricia was throwing a birthday party. But when every other family except her eight-year-old great-grandson ditched the celebration, she decided to finally confront her selfish relatives in the most unexpected way.
If you’ve ever walked past the cozy little blue house on York Street on a warm, sleepy afternoon, you must have caught a glimpse of me.
You may even have seen a wrinkly yet flattering picture of me in the local newspaper. I’m that 100-year-old woman you’ve heard about — no one has ever lived past my age in this neighborhood.
Like that’s going to sober me down! No, I’m always on my feet, doing things, trying something new, and humming an old tune. I’m the kind of woman who’ll play Christmas carols even in the middle of the summer, just because I love the cheer they bring.
It’s always Christmas-y in my house…except for that month. All I wanted was for the earth to crack open and collapse into the abyss. Losing your gentlest child will do that to you.
Susie was 73 when she passed. But to me, she was my sweetest girl.
She had a son, a daughter-in-law, and Charlie, her grandson. She loved that boy to bits! And he loved her with all his heart, too. He will deny this, but he loved Susie way more than he loved me.
I realized Charlie’s heart’s genuine warmth only after my daughter passed. I could sense him feeling responsible for me, helping me with the chores or the garden, holding my hand whenever he sensed a sadness in my voice, and spending hours by my side. Sometimes we’d spend time just talking, and sometimes only listening.
It’s a good thing I moved closer to their house. I get to see my great-grandson. And I see so much of Susie in him.
“Are you going to miss her on your birthday next week, meemaw?” he asked me the day before my birthday.
“Of course, I will, darling. I will grieve. But I will grieve for her as I loved her. Not with tears, but with happiness and the memory of all her favorite things.”
I wanted to break down and cry, but I couldn’t, not in front of Charlie.
“And, of course, the whole family will be here. After ages! You’ll be seeing some very new faces. Oh, this house will come alive with such beautiful chaos!”
I didn’t sleep that night. ‘Tomorrow, before sunrise, my family will be back under one roof, and our hearts will heal,’ I thought.
But the first person to arrive at my home that day was Charlie. I had been waiting for hours. I had made a hundred frantic calls to at least 10 of my children and grandchildren, and nobody had answered. And the only response I got was one text from my eldest living daughter, Sandra.
“Sorry, can’t make it. Something came up. Happy Birthday, Mom.”
What was I thinking? Why did I believe that my family members, who haven’t bothered to write or call to check if I’m alive, would suddenly care enough to celebrate my birthday with me? I felt like such a fool for believing that they would show up.
I was so deeply lost in my thoughts that I forgot about the one loving little human who had come to greet me. He was wearing brand new clothes and a bowtie, and his smile told me he had a surprise for me.
“Close your eyes, Meemaw!”
“What’s this? Oh! You made a greeting card. Look at this cute bunny you made – is that supposed to be me?”
Charlie giggled and nodded, handing me my second present. It was a bunch of my favorite flowers – bluebells, roses, and tulips. Charlie had picked each of them from his garden and bound them as neatly as he could.
“Wait, there’s one more thing. Here, Happy Birthday, meemaw!”
Bubblewrapped in the sparkly paper was an elegant white coffee mug with the engraved words: I love you.
The purity of a child’s heart can spark unexpected change.
“This is gorgeous! Charles H. Geller, where did you get the money to afford this gift?” I had to know.
“It’s nothing. I had saved all the money you and grandma had given me for so many years. This cost only a small part of it – only $18. And it says I love you, so you’ll remember that I love you even when I’m not here.
How incredible is this child? How thoughtful! I wished all of my other family members were here right now, so I could show them what a loving relationship looked like.
As I released Charlie from a long, tight hug, I had an idea. That beautiful $18-mug led to what would become the most scandalous day in my family’s history.
My plan worked. One magic word and every family member who didn’t show up on my birthday came rushing to see me the very next day. That magic word was ‘inheritance.’
I saw the swarm of my children and grandchildren gathered in my lawyer’s office, jostling each other for a place to sit or stand in the cramped space.
Earlier, I had heard my daughter Sandra whispering instructions to the others.
“Look, after keeping us hanging for years, she’s finally ready to divide the estate. Best behavior, all of you – I don’t want anyone to mess this up!”
They all waited with eager starry eyes, unaware of my master plan.
“Hello, I’m Ms. Patricia’s lawyer, and on her instruction, I’m here to hand over your share of her old estate.”
“But first, I need to be sure. Would you be so kind as to count how many of you are here today?”
Heads started bobbing as the relatives each counted in their minds.
“Perfect, just as you anticipated, Ms. Patricia.”
I nodded and watched the excitement and greed on the faces of her relatives as they each accepted an envelope.
It was time for me to make my speech.
“My dear children, I’m sorry I didn’t give you what you deserved until now. But today, through this money, I want you to know exactly how valuable you are to me. Even if the amount exceeds your expectations, I want you to keep it. For my sake!”
I knew the men and women in the room were only half-listening to me. They finally tore open the envelope to see how much richer they had gotten.
They stole looks into each other’s envelopes, ensuring that nobody had gotten more.
“Exactly. A dollar. That’s your inheritance, and that’s way more than the love and respect you have given me all these years – zero!”
“I’m looking at 18 of my children and grandchildren. And yet, I have never felt loved by anyone other than my darling Susie and this little one. 18 of you, and yet, my great-grandson was the only one who visited me on my birthday.
“Is this a joke?” Sandra was furious. And the fact that Charlie was standing next to her, failing to cover his laughter, only made her angrier.
“What do you think you’re doing here? Get out!” Sandra pointed towards the door, her finger trembling with fury.
She really shouldn’t have done that.
“That’s enough! You do not get to talk to him like that. That’s the sole heir to my property you’re talking to. Minus the $18 I spent on all of you, of course!”
I thought I would find redemption in looking at the shame and disappointment in all their eyes. Instead, I found that I really didn’t care. The only face I wanted to look at was Charlie’s as he squirreled through the crowd to embrace me.
What can we learn from this story?
Never disrespect elders. You’re at a loss if you belittle the experience of older people. Patricia’s family members were rude to her and considered meeting her a waste of time. Their rudeness cost them a fortune.
The purity of a child’s heart can spark unexpected change. Patricia had forgotten to have meaningful family relationships. But Charlie showed her what a loving relationship looked like.