Jack, you have received a special gift from me. Brooks Oakford, a cousin of mine, signed a one dollar bill for me. There is no other bill in the entire world addressed to me with his name, Bud. Brooks is his given name, but his relatives called him Bud. He ran Aunt Charlotte's Candies in Merchantville, NJ for many decades. Now, two of his children run it for him.

Aunt Charlotte's Candies

Bud often comes to his store and chats with customers. He plays a game with some of them by flipping one dollar bills for them. The customer calls heads or tails, and Bud gives them a dollar if they win. I wanted more than one of his crisp new bills; I wanted it addressed to me and signed by him.

I owe Bud much. The gift that he gave was far more valuable than winning a flipped bill. Bud asked me to work for him for a couple of weeks at the candy store around 1951. I was about 8 or 9 years old and still lived in New Jersey. My family moved to Pittsburgh in the spring of 1952. I worked for several weeks, and it was a hoot. I loved that opportunity to work in a candy store. Imagine, an entire candy store to see, smell, and sample. In fact, at that time six decades ago, Aunt Charlotte's also made ice cream. Talk about living in heaven on this earth...in Merchantville, NJ. The store was heaven for me.

Back then, six decades ago, I missed understanding his gift to me. I thought that Bud's gift just letting me work and roam about his store...sampling anything that attracted me. It took me many of years to process what his gift meant. While it was a great experience for a young kid to work in a candy and ice cream store, that really wasn't the important and life-changing gift that Bud gave me.

What Bud gave me was his assurance that I was capable of working in a place that made candy. Again, I was there when I wasn't even 10-years old. Bud told me that he trusted me not to get hurt and that I could perform some of duties that his adult employees did daily. I spent many hours putting pretzels on a conveyor-belt that would coat them with chocolate. There were other jobs that I did that took attention and an adult maturity-level.

Bud showing me the old coating machine

Bud is showing me the old coating machine that I used.

His real gift to me wasn't even realized or understood for years. I missed the message. I liked Bud, his family, and the candy store, and they liked me. I got that, and that relationship remains to this day.

However, aside from him liking me, his having me work for him didn't really register until many years later. He did for me what Louie Palmer did for me while I was a student at Muskingum College. Louie allowed me to teach subsections of a required 10-hour class taken in either the junior or senior year. The class was called The Arts. I took it in my junior year and was teaching a handful of subsections weekly, writing, and grading the midterm and final in both semesters during my senior year.

Louie saw something in me that allowed him to hire me...to teach students that were contemporaries of me. By that time in my life, Louie's gift was understood at both levels-I love teaching art history, which is a hoot, but I also understood that he saw something about my abilities. It is interesting that I am still teaching and on some happy semesters, I teach art history.

Both Bud and Louie saw something in me at different times of my life. And, now, Jack, I am passing on that tradition of seeing something in you. You have received this dollar bill given to me by Bud when Granny and I were in Merchantville just a couple months ago. I have had it placed in a plastic frame to protect it for your lifetime.

It is given to you as a gift for being you, for the things in you that you can do now and in the future. Granny and I can see in you, Jack, abilities that many kids don't possess-certainly not at your age. We see capabilities in you that you won't fully appreciate by you for years to come. However, we saw them along with your parents long before you even understood the word capabilities or abilities.

Accept this gift as I accepted the gift that Bud gave me years ago when I worked for him. It will take you a long time to fully appreciate this gift...and the true gift isn't in the dollar itself. It is in what we have seen in you. By receiving this gift, you are continuing a tradition started in the early 50s by Bud and in the mid 60s by Louie.

For example, when you were around 9 months old, I was talking to you as you were sitting in your highchair. You were eating your finger foods. I didn't say anything to you. I merely opened my mouth wide. Jack, your initial reaction was questioning. Your look of bewilderment on your face said it all. You were attempting to understand how you papa would be hungry since we provided you food and feed you like your parents.

However, amid your confusion about how that was possible, you didn't waste any time attempting work out the problem. Instead, you feed me. Even though all the needed data wasn't available to you, you acted...out of love and concern for this person that seemed to need food. I'll never forget that first moment when you said to me that you would share with me your finger food.

Jack and Al

Another example of who you are is that game we have played for months when you sit on my lap facing me. I count 1, 2, 3 and up you stand. I praise your ability to understand and to execute the motor skills to stand. We have done that so often, you know of your level of ability. You are delighted to perform this feat. When granny comes into the room, I'll tell her to watch what you can do. 1, 2, 3 and by two your feet are moving to stand. Again, I'll praise you.

However, what intrigues me is that you know that I think you are good at this feat, and you look over to granny for her approval. That fascinates me. You know that you can do something well and that I can recognize it. Your turning toward granny is a way of showing your level of assuredness. You expect that she also sees your ability level.

I want you to see that in this transferring of the signed one dollar bill that you are an immensely capable person. By your next birthday, you will know that you can walk, talk, and a long list of other accomplishments. However, never forget the tradition of passing on this signed dollar bill. I will never forget what Bud and Louie did for me.

Photo of Al and Jack looking at dollar bill

An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

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