Dollars < Sense

A young woman's late grandfather has a few suggestions regarding how she's to spend her inheritance.

She was at that corruptible age where duplicitous friends and family were not yet revealed to her in their adult form, yet their sugar-coated malice could be faintly detected along with some bitter note on the tongue. This was the bitterness Faye Holbrook soured her petite and beautiful—if not somewhat precocious—face at, along with the sweet, sweet liberty that a $20,000 inheritance can bring to a 15-year-old girl from a low-middle-income family, if used properly. Of course, the dollars she inherited were trivial compared with the good sense passed down from her industrious parents—who respected the teenage hunger for responsibility to equal parts fun—colored with their own impoverished, naïve worldview when it came to the serpentine dwellers of the inherently wobbly branches of the family tree.

Her parents, Gary and Maggie Holbrook, had sat down with her in her bedroom in the wake of her grandfather’s funeral to explain the details of his will, and Faye, with a mournful look in her eyes, listened.

“Grandpa saved his retirement money to leave you this,” Maggie said. “Half goes to the college fund, and the other half he explicitly wrote that you should spend any way you like, and I quote…” Maggie paused to smile and catch a nostalgic tear before it fell. “He says ‘…Use ten-grand to enrich your life however you see fit, just so long as you don’t spend the second half of my gift on anything so silly and boring as college, or worse… a savings plan, that is unless you want your dusty ol’ grandpa to come haunt you. (And don’t give any to Uncle Leon. It’s an inside joke between me and him that he gets nothing). Donate it; burn it, and laugh like you’re a comic book villain, go to Disney World, buy Disney World, or buy a billion popsicle sticks and construct a house bigger than your parents’ in the backyard… just so long as it enriches you, my dear. My sweet Faye, wise beyond your years… You deserve much more than this pile-a-bones can give you. Love, Grandpa.’”

When Maggie and Gary finished reading the more evocative sections of the will and consoling their only daughter as much as they had themselves, their faces streaked with cathartic tears and lines of laughter, Gary left the room and came back with one more gift. He placed a small, black, Moleskin notebook in Faye’s hand with a taut nylon band wrapped around to keep shut.

“What’s this?” Faye said.

“This,” Gary said, “is your grandfather’s other gift to you. He told us not to open it and then he said in a grumpy voice—you know the voice, where he pretends not to love you, but you know he loves you more because he acts grumpy because he was born during the Great Depression—he said… ‘for Faye’s eyes only.’” Gary smiled.

With hugs and kisses her parents left Faye alone in her room to contemplate her wealth, old and new. Sense and dollars, dollars, and sense. She cried, she laughed, she loved with all the mortal confusion in her 15-year-old heart. She had known what to do with the second half of the 20 thousand the moment her parents read her grandfather’s words, and was doubly sure when she received the notebook, which, in a rare fit of adolescent discipline despite her curiosity, she elected not to open. That is, until she’d properly enriched her life as she saw fit.

The money was already working its peculiar magic. Soon, her life was to be enriched in that bittersweet, melancholy manner that so often accompanies a known family inheritance of which a vulnerable young girl is the recipient. Enriched by losing or writing off the people in her life who did not enrich her. Friends, who’d had the nerve to come to her birthday each year, and family who’d had the nerve to hold her when she was a baby, that then furtively or in a straightforward way suggested they were entitled to some of the money for some banal reason. She might have given them some had it not been for their haughty, gauche display of asking with an ominous subtext of demanding. And so, the unexpected fallout of her newfound wealth would have to inform how she made use of it.

She split the ten-grand in half and divided that amongst her friends and family whom she remained grateful for. They were of course grateful to her in return after having refused the money multiple times with an ill-refined sense of civility and grace. For as long as she lived, these wonderful people always staked a warm place in Faye’s fondest memories.

With the other half of the split half, she got to work on her grandpa’s list of suggestions. She donated one thousand dollars to a charity that went toward helping impoverished seniors. She burned a single dollar bill and reveled, then cackled maniacally, in watching it burn Halloween orange, night sky blue, and Christmas red. With the help of her father, she invested an insignificant sum in Disney World and lost the money as quick as she’d parted with it. 

She stowed $200 under her bed for her to spend on the family vacation next year when they all went to Disney World, but they came home early when they realized the road trip there was more fun than the destination. Then she bought an obscene amount of popsicle sticks and hot glued herself a small, lamp-sized house and placed it in front of an even smaller popsicle stick house that she labelled her parents’. Finally, she spent the remainder of her money on all the black, Moleskin notebooks she could find, and she got a great deal on them since she purchased in the kind of bulk that would make a small promotional products company fret their bottom line.

It was with great care and great love that Fay Holbrook passed the years of her remaining youth, and the tumultuous but enriched years of adulthood, by filling the pages of thousands of black notebooks with imagined worlds, poems, songs, recipes, diary entries, to-do lists, reading lists, grocery lists, encoded messages, foreign languages, doodles, birthdays, sad days, happy days, latter-days, first kisses, last kisses, the big move; weddings, children, and grandchildren, and every other beautiful thing under the holy sky, and which she shared none of with Uncle Leon as an inside joke with him, her grandpa, and herself.

With each passing year and with each completed notebook upon her black-spined shelf that acted like encyclopedias of day-to-day life and compendiums of otherworldly fiction, she pushed back the date when she could open her grandfather’s notebook to satisfy her curiosity. And her curiosity grew with her discipline in not opening it with every passing year, thanks to the good sense imparted to her by her loving parents, and to them by their parents.

It was an ordinary day in June, not long after Faye Holbrook turned 65-years-old, that she filled the last of her pages from so long ago, with an idea for a short story she had about one of her grandchildren. With that, she ambled over to the sacred bookshelf and put the last completed notebook at the end of the top row, then walked to the other end of the long bookshelf to pick up the one her grandfather gave to her, the first on the bottom row. She undid the delicate nylon strap that had all but worn away in various moving boxes over the years. She turned to the inside cover to read the inscription.

“My dearest Faye. I always knew you were a writer like your dusty ol’ grandpa. Fill these pages with the things that make you whole and keep from them the things that don’t. If I haven’t haunted you by now, you’ll know I approve. Love, Grandpa.”

It was here that Faye swiped at her eyes with the sleeves of her plush sweater the way a child might. She sat in her favorite chair and wielded her favorite pen, her grandfather’s notebook in hand. It was time to write a story.


Written by Jerry funk

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