Thursday, January 12, 2012

I told you I would keep you posted, but. . .

I don't have exciting news for you.  I lost.

I didn't make it to the final round of the MeeGenius Author Challenge, and I have no idea if the editors at Real Simple Magazine liked my essay or not.  All I know is that I lost. I am not asking for your pitty, your sympathy, or even a comforting smile.

I am proud of myself because I took some chances.  I took creative work that was, and still is, near and dear to my heart, and I put it out there for people who have no knowledge of me to read and to judge.

I am proud of my writing.  I worked hard, and felt good about it.  In fact, I am going to share my essay with you for the Real Simple Life Lessons Contest right here, right now!  I enjoyed writing it, and I hope that you enjoy reading it!

Glove Box Love

“Check your tire pressure at least once a week, and you never know when you might need a screwdriver.”

This is what my grandfather, whom I so fondly called Papa, said to me when I tried to return his tire pressure gauge and screwdriver.  Still in their boxes, they were old, and in working order, like the 1978 Oldsmobile 98 that he had just passed on to me.  He had kept the tools in his glove box—always.

In 1993 I was a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I was beginning my student teacher training.  I needed to drive off campus everyday to the schools where I was teaching.  Papa was 83 years old and no longer driving.  I needed a car, and he had one that he wasn’t using.

The Olds was quite a sight!  The flawless white exterior, carefully maintained by only parking in the absolute farthest parking spot, made any used car dealer’s heart flutter.  Shiny red vinyl seats and plush red carpeting created the perfect atmosphere for groovy music to blast from the radio.  It was big enough to park one of today’s smart cars in the trunk, and too big to pull into most campus parking spaces.  The engine that was held together with Papa’s strategically placed duct tape got me where I needed to go.  

I rolled my eyes, thanked Papa for his tools, and left them in the glove box so as to keep him happy.  What if he asked to see them some day down the road?

Papa was not about to just give me that car.  Papa was going to teach me about economy and the American Way.  He sold it to me---for $1.00.  I never paid him, and I still feel very guilty for that.

Papa had left Germany in 1938 with his wife and 6-month-old son on one of the last boats to leave before the start of World War II. He came to the United States with $4.00 in his pocket. He had sewn cameras into the upholstery of his furniture, hoping to sell them in order to have some cash for his young family. 

Upon arriving in the United States, not speaking a word of English, he selflessly provided a home for his wife, baby, brother-in-law, mother, and mother-in-law (she lived with my grandparents for the first 30 years of their marriage).   Papa worked for many years as a butcher, even sacrificing the holiest of Jewish holidays to work on Yom Kippur.  His family needed money to survive, and he couldn’t risk losing his job by being caught as a Jew. 

Through his strong work ethic and devotion to his family, Papa eventually sent his two sons through college, medical, and dental school loan free; not many people today can even say that they have done this for their children.  He provided for them in ways better than he could ever have imagined for himself.  That is quite an accomplishment for a man with only $4 and a few weeks of night school English.  He was proud of himself, and rightly so.  Love drove him.

Papa’s five grandchildren were his entire world—at least he made us feel that way.  Not only did he attend every school performance, graduation, recital, soccer game, and birthday party, but he carved out special time that he provided for us as well. 

Each one of us would have our own sleepovers with our grandparents.  I anxiously watched out the window, waiting for that big Olds 98 to pull into the driveway when it was my turn to be the center of his attention.  Papa always told me to sit in the back with my grandmother.  I loved her dearly, but I wanted to sit in the front with him. In his mind, however, it was chivalrous to have the ladies sit in the back.  I recall countless rides to our favorite restaurant, Benji’s, for dinner before the sleepover.  My dinner was waiting at the table when we arrived—a corned beef sandwich on rye (hold the bread, please) and pickles on the side.  Papa always made sure that it was prepared perfectly.  It was almost as if Benji had created a new menu item just for me. 

He taught me how to play poker with his friends—I couldn’t believe that at 7 years old I was good enough to beat all of those men who had been playing since they were my age!  Wow!   Papa was an amazing teacher, or so I thought. 

As I grew into my teens I knew that I loved my Papa.  Grandchildren unconditionally love their grandparents.  Yet, I always thought that he was a little quirky.  He would come into our house and after he adjusted the thermostat to his liking, he never failed to sit in the same squeaky chair and to gripe about something.  Whether it was his health, the weather, or the cost of gas, he always had a complaint. 

When I went off to college I didn’t see Papa as often as I used to, but still spoke with him frequently.  I became involved in my own life, as a college student does.  I focused on my next exam, the next party with friends, or the most current drama with my roommates.  All things, as I look back now, that were trivial. 

He called at least once a week just to see how I was.  Never failing to tell me to study hard, yet reminding me of the importance of catching a good football game with friends.   Before our conversation drew to a close, Papa always asked me how the car was doing?  “Are you making sure that you never have less than a half tank of gas?  You don’t want to run out.”   He loved that car, and he loved that I was driving it.

I only drove that car for about a year when Papa passed away.  It never felt quite the same to drive it.  No one asked me if I checked the tire pressure, no one reminded me to let it warm up in the cold weather.  No one else loved it as much as I did.  That car had become more to me than simply transportation.  It still smelled like Papa’s aftershave.

For my college graduation that winter my parents helped me to buy a new car.  It was time to say good-bye to Papa’s car.  The car never really was mine . . . it was Papa’s.   I always felt as if it was sort of on loan.  I was supposed to be able to give it back to him.  Before the junkyard handed over $300 in cash in exchange for 16 years of memories, I cleaned out the glove box. 

I remember smiling when I found the screwdriver and tire pressure gauge.   Instead of them symbolizing the nagging of an old man, they suddenly symbolized his love for me. 

Each time I have purchased a new car over the years before even putting the key into the ignition, I have faithfully placed Papa’s tools in the glove box.  After all, you must check your tire pressure once a week, and you never know when you might need a screwdriver.


  1. Oh, Sandi! What a lovely story! You made me all misty-eyed. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Thank you Susanna. I am glad that you enjoyed it. My Papa was a very special person in my life, and I am happy to have shared just part of our story together. I know that it would have made him misty-eyed too!

  3. Lovely! Thank you so very much. You really know how to end a story and bring it all together.

  4. Thanks Miranda. I appreciate your feedback.

  5. Oh I love this post so much! My Dad, who is 81, is trying to instill these lesson in my daughter, who is 8. I really, really hope that she is listening well and that one day she too will have a special touchstone to remember him by. Thanks for sharing!

  6. A sweet, beautiful, well-written story. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Oh wow! Sandi, I too was misty eyed, this is a very special story. What a wonderful memory for you. Obviously with every car you buy, you will always remember him, I loved the way you brought it all together. Thankyou very much for this.

  8. I now know your Papa through your eyes. And I honor him and you. Keep submitting.

  9. A beautiful tribute to your grandfather. I'm so glad you shared it with us!

  10. Thank you all so much for reading my story about my Papa. He was a very special part of my life, and to this day I still have dreams about him, and can hear his voice. I am glad that you enjoyed my essay. I hope that one day I can honor him by publishing this story for the world to see.

  11. Great story and great job submitting and taking chances. Keep it up. The best way to prove your are a writer is to have a drawer full of rejections. (It also keeps the tax man satisfied when you claim those deductions.) lol.

  12. Thank you Jackie for being a cheerleader! I will keep submitting, and I will keep writing. My rejection drawer is having less and less room by the day!

  13. What an inspiring story! Your grandfather seemed like a wonderful person. Good luck with your writing endeavors this year.

  14. I'm not offering pity, sympathy, or a comforting smile. I'm giving a WOOT! and Thanks for Sharing. You can take or leave them.

    Jackie's got it right. Enjoy that feeling of satisfaction when you do your best and take a chance. Sometimes I think the anticipation and hope is the best part.

  15. Thank you so much Matthew. Best of luck on your writing endeavors as well.

  16. Hey Jen! Thanks for the WOOT! I appreciate your support.

  17. Thanks for sharing that with us Sandi. What a nice tribute to your grandfather. Good luck & happy writing to you. :)

  18. Sandi - What a lovely story! :)

    I'm sorry you lost. I recently posted in my own blog about a submission of mine getting rejected. I did, however add lots of inspirational quotes with the post! lol! It's all about how you pick yourself back up and keep trying! And sharing your work with others is a big step along the way in your journey!

  19. Sandi, I would say good luck, but I don't believe in luck, so, I will wish you well. You wrote a very touching story. Happy Writing.

  20. I LOVE this story. You keep plugging away. Keep taking risks because you never know when they might pay off. ;-)

  21. Thanks for sharing this - I enjoyed the story, especially how it came full circle. Though a part of me wished you could have tied in the whole tire-pressure and screwdriver bit (metaphorically?) You should be proud of yourself - it's really important to put your stuff out there and keep working at what you love. Thanks as well for participating in the 2012 Comment Challenge!
    Keep on commenting,