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The Little Red Book

May 22, 2011

My grandfather had an eye for the ladies – ladies other than my grandmother. So, after a few years Grandma gave him his walking papers. Unfortunately, Gramps was a virile fellow too. He produced three children before his quick departure – two boys and one girl. The girl’s name was Elizabeth. I called her Aunt Lizzie.

Lizzie worked her way through college – a feat made easier from watching her single mother successfully raise three children on a nursing home aide salary. Lizzie learned another lesson from her mother – the lesson of giving small gifts.

Every Christmas as a child I received a little red book from Aunt Lizzie. The stories were short and the theme was always about adventure. Subsequently, I developed a love of reading that has lasted a life time. But, at the time I failed to realize the sacrifice Lizzie was making to buy me that book, or the impact of the gift.

The light finally came on when I was reading a newly purchased book. The name of the book was “The World According to Mister Rogers.” It was little. It was red.

I was ashamed that I had never told Lizzie what her gifts meant to me. So, I bought another copy of Mister Rogers and sent it to Lizzie – along with a note. Three days later she called. Lizzie’s speech is like a roller coaster – the tone goes up and down with great excitement. She loved her little red book.

Six months later I received another telephone call. This one was different. It was more like a roller coaster stalled at the top of the tracks – idle and tense. Lizzie didn’t mince words. She explained that she had been to the doctor because of back pain. The doctor diagnosed late stage pancreatic cancer.

With the strength of a field general she said, “I have a great team of doctors and I’m going to fight this enemy with all my might. But, we need to be realistic too. The doctors have given me 3-6 months and few people beat pancreatic cancer.”

Almost six months to the day of her phone call, Lizzie died.

Before her death Lizzie developed a financial education program for high school students. She traveled the United States teaching teachers how to deliver the program. The training and all the materials were provided free of charge.

Lizzie’s overall legacy was the impact she had with thousands of high school students.

Her legacy with me was “The Little Red Book.”

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