A Farewell Gift
- A Farewell Gift
By Jim Comstock
My wife and I had just finished the 150-mile trip home from our daughter's college. It was the first time in our lives that she would be gone for any length of time. We wondered how other people had survived it.
Later in bed, I thought of the time I started college. My father had driven me too. We rode in the farm truck. In the back was the trunk I had bought with money earned by pitching hay that summer. My mother had to stay behind to keep the cattle from getting into the crops. I, the fourth in a line of brothers, was the first to go away to college. My mother cried, and I cried; after we were out of sight of the farm, I began to feel jellylike and scared.
The truck was slow, and I was glad. I didn't want to get to the city too soon. I remembered how my father and I stopped by a stream and ate the sandwiches my mother had prepared.
My daughter's day was different, of course. We stopped at a classy roadside place and ordered fried chicken. Then we went to the dormitory, and my wife talked with the housemother. When she came back, she was wiping her eyes. It wasn't until we were passing through the next town that she discovered our daughter had forgotten to take out the portable radio and record player. I told her she should have put it in the trunk with the other things, not in the back seat.
Now I heard a sob beside me. I knew that my wife was thinking about the new kind of loneliness before us.
My father didn't let me stay at the dormitory. A room in a private home was cheaper and better if a student wanted to work his way through. But I didn't have a room. My father told me that we'd leave my trunk at a filling station. I could come for it the next day after I had found a place to stay. We toured the town a bit, but the traffic confused him. I said maybe I'd better go on my own.
I shook hands with my father in the truck. For a long, haunting moment he looked straight ahead, not saying a word, but I knew he was going to make a little speech. "I can't tell you nothing," he finally said. "I never went to college, and none of your brothers went to college. I can't say don't do this and do that, because everything is different and I don't know what is going to come up. I can't help you much with money either, but I think things will work out."
He gave me a brand-new checkbook. "If things get pushing, write a small check. But when you write one, send me a letter and let me know how much. There are some things we can always sell." In four years, the total of all the checks I wrote was less than a thousand dollars. My jobs chauffeuring a rich lady, janitoring at the library, reading to a blind student and baby-sitting professors' kids filled in the financial gaps.
"You know what you want to be, and they'll tell you what to take," my father continued. "When you get a job, be sure it's honest and work hard." I knew that soon I would be alone in the big town, and I would be missing the furrowed ground, cool breezes and a life where your thinking was done for you.
Then my dad reached down beside his seat and brought out the old, dingy Bible that he had read so often, the one he used when he wanted to look something up in a friendly argument with one of the neighbors. I knew he would miss it. I also knew, though, that I must take it.
He didn't tell me to read it every morning. He just said, "This can help you if you will let it."
Did it help? I got through college without being a burden on my family. I have had a good earning capacity ever since.
When I finished school, I took the Bible back to my father, but he said he wanted me to keep it. "You will have a kid in school some day," he told me. "Let the first one take that Bible along."
Now, too late, I remember. It would have been so nice to have given it to my daughter when she got out of the car. But I didn't. Things were different. I was prosperous and my father wasn't. I had gone places. I could give her everything. My father could give me only a battered, old Bible. I'd been able to give my daughter what she needed.
Or had I? I don't really believe now that I gave her half as much as my father gave me. So the next morning I wrapped up the book and sent it to her. I wrote a note. "This can help you," I penned, "if you will let it."
Reprinted by permission of Jim Comstock (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell Autio. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.