It’s safe to assume that when it comes to gifts, most kids prefer material items. It’s what we are increasingly conditioned to desire by society and digital media. Of course, as we grow older, we also grow to appreciate gifts that are a bit less tangible — gifts that contain a grander meaning.
So this 16-year-old Texan girl would be forgiven for wanting cash or clothes for her birthday. Yet, when her grandpa wanted to make her day extra special, he decided that she was old enough to see the value of something more priceless. When she realized what her grandpa had given her, it brought her and her family to tears!
A small town around the Fort-Worth area of Texas known as Keller is home to Lauren Blank — or Ren, as she liked to be called. Ren was a 15 going on 16-year-old that was really looking forward to celebrating her birthday.
Ren has always been very close with her grandfather, a 72 year old by the name of Ron Petrillo. He’d helped raise her since she was a baby, after all. Still, she could never have expected his birthday gift to her.
When Ren was just a toddler, her parents decided that instead of sending her to preschool, they would have her spend time in her grandfather’s care. So from ages 2-5, Ren spent almost every day with her grandpa.
These are such formative years in a person’s life and Ren being able to spend them developing a close bond with a loving grandparent was a gift in and of itself for both of them!
Ren wasn’t the only one who felt lucky for that time: Ron recounted that those years were some of the most precious times of his life. He felt it was very important to be fully present when he was taking care of Ren. He didn’t want to miss a single moment.
So as this important birthday was approaching, Ron felt that it was only right to give Ren a gift tantamount to the occasion. A gift that truly celebrated her life and her growth into the young woman she had become.
You see, Ron had been planning Ren’s gift for her entire life, without her ever having any idea. He didn’t want to actually give it to her though until he was totally sure that it was the right time.
Even though it’s always been in vogue to have a big blowout sweet sixteen, Ren opted instead to celebrate with a more intimate gathering of just a few close friends and her family. And, of course, grandpa Ron would be there!
On the morning of Ren’s sixteenth birthday, Ron called Ren’s mother to ask if she thought her daughter was ready for the gift he’d prepared. Together they decided that it was, indeed, the right occasion for his special present.
After keeping this gift a secret for over a decade, the day had finally come for Ron to reveal his surprise for his granddaughter. At last, in March 2012, Ron handed over three spiral-bound notebooks to Ren.
Initially, Ren was confused. What sort of gift was this? But as she opened them and began reading, she started to feel overwhelmed. Amazingly, her grandpa had documented every moment he spent with her from age two through five!
Ren was so young during this period that she had forgotten most of these memories that her grandpa had so carefully preserved. As she began to read through the notebooks, everything started flooding back to her at once.
Ren read through her grandpa’s writing, and soon enough, the entire family was bawling! Many of the stories were detailed and unique, such as the one in which Ron described how he would dance and act silly to make his granddaughter laugh.
“One of your favorite things is for me to push the button on your clock and do my silly dance,” read one passage. “When I say, ‘Lauren do it,’ you sit in your bed and say ‘Papa’ and I keep dancing, falling, running into the wall, turning around like an uncoordinated fat ballerina, and you keep laughing.”
Another entry grandpa Ron wrote about was a trip that Ren and he had taken to a department store. They took an elevator that Ren sweetly referred to as an “alligator.” Ren was so excited about the alligator that they completely forgot about shopping and instead spent the day riding the alligator up and down.
Grandpa Ron’s touching gift moved Ren and her family so much, she couldn’t contain her emotions. She felt a gift this special was too much for her to keep to herself, so she decided to share her present with others.
Ren posted about her grandpa’s amazing gift on Twitter, where her story quickly spread. In no time, it boasted more than 161,000 retweets and 600,000 likes. Countless people reported being moved to tears by her emotional story.
Some Twitter users added that Ren’s gift helped them remember their own grandfathers. Others said that they’d love to do something similar for their grandchildren, either currently or someday in the future.
Perhaps most importantly, though, was how inspiring Ron’s gift was to other young people. Several of them claimed that they were so touched by Ren’s story that they became determined to develop closer relationships with their own grandparents.
It was clear that not only did Ron have a special relationship with his granddaughter but that she appreciated her grandpa just as much. This sentiment of appreciation was shared by those who knew Mr. Watson from Cardiff, Wales…
Before Mr. Watson retired, he was a salvage diver. This meant that he recovered parts of ships, airplanes, and other structures that had sunk into the water. He was an adventurer in every sense of the word…
A keen metal detectorist, classical music and opera fan, wood turner, accordion player, election canvasser, and Great British Bake Off viewer, Watson said that he could go long periods of time without speaking to anyone; his activities got him out of the house.
“After my wife had passed away I took a long time to settle,” he said. “There’s a space around me. I still hear her voice and speak to her. I began parachute jumping. I enjoy these sort of things, I feel the rush of the air. The second jump was the best. I thought ‘gosh I’m an eagle.'”
When he was 85, he made what was probably the most daredevil-move of his lifetime: he climbed on top of a small stunt plane and remained standing on its upper wings while it soared through the air!
His neighbors, Owen and Caroline Williams, couldn’t believe their ears when they heard of his adventures. They were stunned to learn what their neighbor was up to and couldn’t wait to get to know him better.
Owen, Caroline, and their daughter Cadi met Mr. Watson in 2014. “The day after we moved in, we heard some banging and found Ken working on a ladder in his overalls,” Caroline said. “During our first meeting, he gave our dog a biscuit. She absolutely loved him from that moment on; he was such a character.”
As much as the Williams’ dog loved their neighbor, nothing compared to the sparkle in Mr. Watson’s eyes the first time he met the Williams’ daughter Cadi. The feeling was mutual — the baby adored him!
Her youth brought him incredible joy, and he couldn’t get enough of the time they spent together. In fact, he said he wanted to live to be 100 years old just to see Cadi grow up.
Sadly, four years after the Williamses met him, he passed away, when Cadi was only two years old. Despite his age, Mr. Watson had always seemed so vital. His neighbors would miss his stories, his visits, and his optimistic outlook on life.
It wasn’t until Mr. Watson’s son Ian rummaged through his belongings that the pair realized that they still had a way to celebrate their favorite neighbor: he had left them quite a surprise, or 14 surprises to be exact.
Hidden in his attic, buried deep behind boxes full of memories and covered in just a little dust, lay a large sack, complete with an instruction sheet for his son: he was to deliver the sack to the neighbors at once, and make sure they take a look inside.
Ian followed his instructions and rang the Williams’ doorbell that same night. When they looked inside the sack they saw that it was filled to the brim with wrapped gifts! Mr. Watson’s last wish was to put a smile on Cadi’s face one more time.
Rather than giving Cadi the 14 presents at age 2, where she wouldn’t remember much of it, her parents planned to give her one from the pile every Christmas. Surely, she might “grow out” of some of the gifts, but the memory of Mr. Watson’s joy would always remain just as strong.
When Owen brought the bag into the house, the whole family teared up. “I don’t know how long he put them away,” Caroline said, “whether it was over the last two years or whether he bought them towards the end of his life.”
Since receiving the generous gesture from the late Mr. Watson, the Williamses have opened 1 present: it was a children’s book, titled Christmas Eve at the Mellops, by Tomi Ungerer, about four brothers in search of the perfect Christmas tree for their family.
Ken’s son Ian — whose sister gave the gifts to Cadi — said: “I’ve known about this since before my father died. He was a very kind man. It is a lovely story and I would like to tell the world what a lovely guy he was…”
While Cadi never truly got to know her neighbor, her parents will be sure to tell her all of his stories and remind her of the kind man who left her all those presents. After all, Mr. Watson was a great inspiration to many and a reminder that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.