Many years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, I wanted a jacket.
To be more precise, it was a windbreaker. It had a red and white nylon shell with a sort of soft cotton interior. It had metal snaps on the outside and the school’s logo on the upper left chest. Just a simple school spirit thing from Brophy College Prep, the Jesuit school where I spent my high school years.
The jacket cost $13 back in 1978. Today, that same item might be $30 or so. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was money I did not have. Almost all of the money I was earning answering the phones for the school or for my church office was being used to pay the tuition for school. I was broke and my parents, with 4 brothers and sisters after me, didn’t have much money to spare themselves.
Enter my grandmother. My mother told her mother of this want of mine during one of their weekly Arizona to Illinois telephone conversations.
One afternoon a short time later, I was handed the lump sum of $13 by my mother, who said to me, "Go buy your windbreaker tomorrow. Grandma sent you the money. I got it in the mail this morning." I know Mom said something to me about not spending it on anything else, but there was no chance at all as I could think of buying nothing but that jacket. The next morning, without even going to my locker first, I ran to the school store and bought this prize of mine. I wore it proudly for a long time to almost any event I went to, school related or not.
Yes, I know, it was only a jacket. But this jacket was an encouragement for me, and it is hard to put into words what having that simple thing meant to me. My early high school career was not easy on me- and the encouragement and love of my family, which included this simple $13 sent from a thousand miles away, was part of what kept me on track.
Over this last weekend, August 24, 2002, we gathered in the Chicago area to lay to rest my grandmother, Lillian. She was 82 years old upon her death and was a loving sister, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother.
During the Funeral Mass, my Uncle Jim spoke eloquently of how my grandmother had the gift of encouragement. Watching this gathered group of adult children, grandchildren ranging from adults to teens to children, cousins and friends, I knew how true this was of her. While I sat and listened to Jim’s words, I remembered the stories shared around the night before. These were deeply personal moments of joy and laughter, reflection and tears.
Along with many other things from these sharings, I remembered my jacket. It’s amazing how the little things make such a difference.
Thanks, Grandma. We love you and we will miss you.