Jul 12, 2020

Never, Never, Never Give Up

Yesterday while going through some old photos, I found this scrap of paper on the right and haven't been able to stop smiling about it ever since.

One day in 2009, I was having dinner with dad, grandma and grandpa at my grandparents home in West Hazleton.  At the time, I was a junior at Wilkes University.  Grandpa asked how school was going, and I told him it was going pretty well so far, but I was in danger of losing my 4.0 GPA because I was having a rough time with a statistics course that I needed for my major.

The following week at dinner with my family, Grandpa mentioned that he thought of me over the weekend when he was out at the mall with Grandma.  He saw a small magnet sign for five dollars at one of the stores they went to (probably Hallmark).  It had a little kitten on that was hanging on with its front paws to a tree branch, and it had the caption "Never, never, never give up".  With a grin, he said he thought about buying it for me to inspire me with my stats course, but he thought he'd save the five bucks and just tell me.  He then deepened his tone to a fatherly voice and said "Never, never, never give up", which he couldn't get through without cracking a grin at the end.

You'd have to know my grandfather to fully appreciate this, but it sums him up pretty well.  He wasn't nearly as tight with money as he pretended to be, but he was a frugal man who never missed an opportunity to question why anyone would buy something that he deemed to be "crap".  For example, when I was a little kid, I'd often see an arcade game or one of those 25 cent machines that gave you a little toy or some candy and then ask my grandfather if he had a quarter.  He never said no.  He'd take out a little black change purse, open the zipper, and if there was a quarter inside, he'd give it to me.  If it was a video game or a piece of candy or gum, he wouldn't really comment on it.  However, if it was a little plastic toy, he'd laugh and say "what are you going to do with that".  One time that I'll never forget involves this machine that was at the entrance of Insalaco's.

photo source: reddit.com/r/nostalgia/

This is The Chicken Machine.  It wouldn't surprise me if some of these in operation out in the world.  When you put in a quarter, the smiling plastic chicken on the inside spins around a couple of times and a chicken clucking sound is played through a speaker in the machine.  After a few seconds of this, a small plastic egg drops into a chute for you to retrieve.  What's inside the egg is a complete surprise that's totally dependent on whoever filled the machine.  When I was little, my egg contained a little plastic toy of some kind.  When I happily showed it to my grandfather, he smiled and asked me if he could have the plastic egg.  I gave it to him and I asked him why he wanted it.  He said that next time I have a quarter, give it to him instead and he'll spin around and cluck like a chicken and give me back the egg with something inside.  He punctuated this point by tucking in and flapping his arms and clucking like a chicken, much to my delight and my grandmother's embarrassment.

If I root around in my memory, I could probably come up with a hundred stories like this one involving my Grandpa, but you get the idea.  There was never an ounce of sarcasm or meanness in it.  He was a very sweet, funny, quirky guy.

So, fast forward a couple of decades from The Chicken Machine story back to 2009 and the five dollar kitten magnet that he proudly didn't buy.  For the rest of the month, he would randomly remind me of it every time we talked.  We could be having a conversation about anything, but at some point, he'd drop in "Remember - never, never, never give up.  See that, I just saved another five bucks."

While having breakfast in the kitchen one morning before I left for school and he left for work, he reached into the pocket protector in his Dickies work shirt and pulled out a pen and this piece of paper.  He wrote "Never, never, never give up." and gave it to me and said that when I'm on campus and he's not around, take a look at this and I'll be inspired and I'll save him another five bucks.

The rest of the note was written a few minutes later.  He mentioned that there was strawberries in the refrigerator that I could have with my breakfast.  He thought about it for a second and said that he thinks some of them might be starting to go bad, so if I find one that's fuzzy, don't eat it.  My grandmother drooped her shoulders and stared at him with an incredulous look and said "Bill, he's in college.  I think he knows enough to not eat fuzzy berries!"  We all chuckled, and I asked Grandpa if this was his next pearl of wisdom that he wanted to pass down to me.  He then asked me for the paper back, took out his pen, and wrote "If there fuzzy, don't eat them".

Thank you for everything, Grandpa.  I never gave up... and I just saved you another five bucks