Growing up in Texas, surrounded by her loving family, Lauren Blank was nearing her 16th birthday. She could barely contain her excitement as the day grew nearer and nearer. But she wasn’t one for big elaborate parties so she arranged something more fitting.
Lauren, ‘Ren’ as she prefers to be called, had planned a party with only her closest friends and family. She wanted something low-key and intimate with the people she loved most in the world. But little did she know the unforgettable surprise her family – and more specifically her grandfather – had prepared.
Ren was born and raised in the calm residential area of Keller, Texas, a small town of around 45,000 people located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The city advertises itself by saying that it “successfully balances big-city comforts with small-town charm.”
And anyone who has ever been to Keller will know that that is quite true. Ren grew up in the city and matured into a well-educated and informed young adult. Her parents were so proud of her that they knew that they needed to do something special for her 16th birthday. But she had no idea how it would all turn out.
At the time Ren had no idea that her grandfather had been working on her 16th birthday present for over a decade. He kept the present so secret that not even Ren’s parents knew what was going on and what he had planned for the special event.
Ren was in for the surprise of her life when she finally turned 16-years-old. In fact, the gift would be so unexpected that no one would be left with dry eyes during the celebration. This was no ordinary gift and it wasn’t an expensive gift either.
Most teenagers ask for expensive gifts for their 16th birthday, something like a car or a new computer. But the gift she was about to receive from her grandfather was something far from typical. In fact, she would find it very emotionally overwhelming.
Many grandparents give their grandchildren treasured heirlooms on their Sweet 16, something that can be passed down for generations. But what Ren’s grandfather would give her wasn’t your ordinary heirloom, such as jewelry or some other small item with a large monetary value. This gift would be nothing like that.
The gift Ren would receive on her Sweet 16 would forever change the way she saw her grandfather. But to understand it, you’d have to take a look at their deep-seated bond. Their close relationship started when Ren was very young.
Instead of sending their daughter to daycare, Ren’s parents thought that it would be a better idea for Ren to spend more time with her family. So, from age 2 to 5 years old Ren spent time with her loving and caring grandfather. It was during that time that her grandfather would start a secret endeavor.
Ren’s grandfather, Ron Petrillo, wanted to make his time with Ren special. So, for those three years, Ren’s grandfather secretly did something very special on a daily basis. What he did would be a way for their memories together to be kept alive.
Ron wanted his time with his granddaughter to be remembered, especially since at the time Ren would be too young to remember their time together. He eventually told Ren’s parents about his plan, but it wouldn’t be until over a decade later that he would truly understand just what he had done and how meaningful it would be.
Spending every day together, Ren quickly developed a very close relationship with her grandfather. And for his part, Ron didn’t want those memories to fade into nothingness as time went by. He loved his granddaughter more than anything in the world.
Being a toddler at the time, Ron knew that they had precious limited time together until Ren would grown up. So he set out to create a gift for her that would be timeless and meaningful, not knowing what the future would bring. Still, the big question for him was when would be the perfect time to give Ren the gift that would change her life forever.
Ren’s grandfather, Ron, had to decide when would be the best moment to give Ren her gift. And he had a few ideas in mind. At first he thought that he would either give her the gift when she was 16, 21 or maybe even after he had passed away.
Every day that Ron spent with his granddaughter he worked tirelessly on his gift. Slowly it grew into something that would forever change Ren’s life. Even when the two spent time together, her grandfather would manage to work on his secretive project. And he ultimately decided that he would bestow the gift upon her when she could prove something very valuable to him.
“I thought if she was straightened out and being a good person and being nice to people that was important,” Ron Petrillio said of his granddaughter. As he observed her as she grew up, Ron finally came to his final decision.
Eventually, her grandfather decided to give her the gift while he was still alive. He believed that it would be much nicer for them to share the experience together, as opposed to waiting until he had already passed on from this world. Time would only tell though whether that moment would actually come.
After thinking it over and over Ren’s grandfather decided that giving Ren her super special gift would mean so much more to the both of them if he gave her the gift while he, the grandfather, was still alive. It eventually dawned on him that giving her the gift after he had already passed on would actually be heartbreaking, and not heartwarming like he intended.
The entire purpose of the gift, at least as far as Ren’s grandfather was concerned, was to warm his granddaughter’s heart by giving her precious memories of their time together. And seeing as she was two when he started writing it, they were memories that she herself couldn’t remember.
It was a tedious process, but Ron continued slowly adding to the mysterious gift. The present would take years to complete as his progress would be interrupted when he no longer saw Ren on a daily basis. But for the time being while she was still a toddler in his care, he would keep adding.
Ron would go on to hold onto his secret project for more than a decade! The undertaking was incredibly important to him, and only later would everyone understand why. Soon the family would see the unbelievable surprise that Ron had kept from Ren throughout the years.
Every night after spending the day with his precious granddaughter, Ron would sit down and write about their day together. The seemingly simple gift, quickly turned into a very long and time taking project that needed all of his attention, as well as his creative writing skills.
Writing down memories of each and every day that Ron spent with his granddaughter seems like a relatively simple idea, but in actuality it was a very unique and special idea. It would become a gift that Ren would be able to read and cherish for her entire lifetime. Something that very few people have the opportunity to do.
Not all children experience the wonderful gift that is spending time with their grandparents and relatives of older generations. While such relationships can help foster a strong sense of family in a child, they can also seemingly fade away in a flash.
Not wanting to take for granted the possibly fleeting time they had left, Ron was aware that his plan might work out they way he’d hoped. Ron knew he’d be 72 by the time Ren turned 16. Although that isn’t considered an extremely old age these days, he knew nothing was certain.
Nonetheless, as each year passed Ron didn’t give up. After the tiring years that Ren’s grandfather spent working on his secret project, he still had one big decision left to make – when exactly would be the best time for him to give her the present. This question plagued his thoughts for years before he finally came to a decision.
Ren’s grandfather eventually decided that it would be most meaningful to give Ren the life-changing surprise on her 16th birthday, a time that represents a huge milestone in a young person’s lives. Even though the gift would be meaningful at any age, he believed that giving it to her at that point in her life would have the most impact.
People all over the world have a tradition of celebrating milestones in their lives around the age of 16, marking the transition from childhood into adulthood. Many, especially girls, celebrate the event by throwing a huge celebration with fancy and expensive dresses.
The most common tradition in the United States is celebrating a blowout Sweet 16 party. In Latin communities around the world, girls celebrate the quinceañera which is celebrated at the age of 15 years-old. But those aren’t the only ways in which the milestone of adulthood is marked.
Another coming of age ceremony is the bar and bat mitzvah, which represents the ritual coming of age in the Jewish faith. Boys celebrate their bar mitzvahs at the age of 13, while girls celebrate bat mitzvahs at the age of 12 or 13.
The tradition of celebrating the Sweet 16 possibly stems from medieval times, when girls were publicly presented in court upon turning 16, the age that they were legally able to marry. In the Catholic Church, the ceremony of reaching adulthood is referred to as the confirmation. Was was about to happen to Ren at that special age would be beyond her wildest expectations.
The bond between Ren and her grandfather was certainly strong and unique. One of the main factors that have contributed to their closeness is the proximity in which they live. As he lived so close he was able to become a huge part of her life growing up.
Although modern technology can help bridge that gap that plagues many grandparents and their descendants, that wasn’t the case for Ren Blank and her grandfather, Ron. As Ren approach her big birthday, though, she had no inkling of what was to come.
What she was about to receive had been years in the making. Incredibly, her grandfather had managed to create something incredible under her very nose without her noticing. She didn’t know it yet, but she would want to dearly guard this birthday present for the rest of her life.
As the years passed the relationship between granddaughter and grandfather changed. Naturally, she eventually had to attend school and saw the man who had been such an influence on her early life less and less. In the end, her grandfather, Ron, wondered whether all of his hard work would pay off.
Ren’s 16th birthday finally came around in March of 2017, the date that her grandfather had decided to give her the present that had been in the making for so many years. There was no way she could have known what was about to come into her possession, but it would be a miraculous moment!
When Ren finally opened the present she was more than bit confused as to what she was looking at. Inside the present were three spiral notebooks, labeled ‘Lauren book 1, 2 and 3.’ At the time, Ren had no idea what she was looking at. But soon it would all become astonishingly clear.
Ren gazed down at the notebooks that she had just received with a puzzled look on her face. She was completely baffled, but she would soon find out just what an amazing gift she had been given from her grandfather.
As Ren’s confusion turned into curiosity, she began to explore the pages of the book. She noticed that the notebooks were written in pen and addressed to her by name. Ren browsed through the pages, still she had no idea what they were all about.
Still failing to realize what she was looking at she began to read the first page. Meanwhile, Ren’s grandfather looked on with pride as Ren read the first sentence of the notebook. Patiently, he watched, waiting to see her reaction.
It was then that she started to feel a tug on her heart strings, although she would have to read a few more pages until thing began to make more sense. He found it hard to hold back his emotions as the realization of what she was reading swept over her. Suddenly, everything became clear as day.
The notebook’s first entry was written in dark pen and the handwriting was instantly familiar. It started with the words: “Hi Lauren: I’m just starting this so someday you might read it for fun. It’s going to be a day-to-day record of you and me.”
As it turned out, Ren’s grandfather had written extensively in all three notebooks by hand. Ren’s grandfather had added something to the notebooks every day that he and Ren had spent together in her formative years. The amount of labor was obvious, but what he didn’t expect was the breathtaking impact that his notebooks would have on Ren and the entire family. Ren’s family anxiously watched as she read on.
Ren’s grandfather had dated each entry that he made into the notebooks. It had all started on February 13, 2003, when he began recording their days together. Ren was only two-years-old at the time, but what her grandfather had penned would blow everyone away.
Ren discovered that her grandfather worried that Ren would remember very little from their time together seeing that she had been so young. Therefore, he set out to make sure that she would have a record of everything they had done together. As she continued to read, she realized just how many forgotten memories she was uncovering.
Ren’s grandfather explained that he thought that it would be a great idea for Ren to be able to relive their time together via the notebooks. It turned out that he had been correct in thinking that she’d be too young to remember the details of their time together.
Ren’s grandfather had cared for her from the time she was only two-years-old until she went to kindergarten at the age of five. After she went to kindergarten he stopped making entries into the journal as he didn’t see her on a daily basis. But what he had written during that time would bring her to tears.
During the three years that he’d looked after her, Ren’s grandfather managed to fill up three whole notebooks with stories of their time together. While Ren’s grandfather had vivid memories of his time with her, it turned out that she remembered very little of their time together.
As she flipped through the pages on her 16th birthday, she was reminded of many things that for her were only a distant memory laying beneath the surface. Her grandfather hadn’t expected it, but his simple gift would cause certain parts of Ren’s forgotten past to come flooding back.
Even Ren’s grandfather didn’t remember all of the stories he had written in the notebooks so many years ago. And there was one account in particular from when Ren was only two-years-old of which that the notebooks had reminded them.
It turned out to be a game that she had loved to play growing up that they had called “see ya.” The game involved her grandfather doing whatever he could to make Ren laugh as hard as possible just by being silly. “He used to do this ‘See Ya’ game, and he would run into the wall over and over and over and I would die,” Ren reminisced. But that wasn’t all.
Another distant memory that they were reminded of was a time when Ren’s grandfather took her to a department store and they both rode the elevator. Ren was so captivated by the experience of riding on an elevator that she convinced her grandfather to keep riding it up and down together.
The then two-year-old Ren had adorably called the elevator an “alligator.” She was overcome with emotion upon recalling the hilariously adorable account. That day they didn’t get much shopping done, but they certainly had a great time together riding the “alligator “up and down for hours. Ren was already brimming with emotion by this point, but there were more memories to come that would have her floored.
As Ren read deeper and deeper into the notebooks she discovered more beautiful stories of her time with her grandfather. Another fantastic memory that she was able to recall thanks to the notebooks was another game that she had loved growing up.
Ren could barely contain herself as she read what her grandfather had documented: “One of your favorite things is for me to push the button on your clock and do my silly dance. 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.” As she finished reading the touching notebooks, though, she could hardly hold back the emotions.
Ren was dumbfounded by the gift, she had no idea how on earth her grandfather found the time to write down all the stories of their together and still had the time to take care of her every day for years.
Ren’s grandfather had never been one to multi-task while watching her. He would never just sit her in front of the TV so he could work on something else. As it turned out, he would take time to write down a journal of their daily activities while Ren was lying down for her afternoon nap. It was then she realized the extent of what he’d done.
Ren quickly realized just what her grandfather had done for her and how precious his gift really was. She could barely hold back her emotions as she skimmed through the pages of her younger self. The notebooks were beyond a doubt the most incredible gifts she had ever received.
While other people were receiving cars and other expensive items on their 16th birthdays Ren received a piece of her history spent with her grandfather. While reading the stories in the notebooks, more vague memories of hers started coming back to her.
A few entries in particular stood out to Ren as she flipped through the pages of her youth. When she was younger her grandfather would frequently take her to the zoo, which she particularly loved. She loved to look at the animals.
“The rescue zoo — we’d go there every day except Monday, when they were closed,” Ren’s grandfather later told Today. “And we’d go look at all the stuff, and then I’d buy her every trinket in the gift shop.” What Ren would do with newfound gift though would make the story even more hearfelt.
Overall, Ren’s grandfather amassed over 185 handwritten pages of stories about his time with his granddaughter. Each story as moving and emotional as the last, spanning three full notebooks. Then sadly, the journals end when Ren turned five-years-old. Because that was when she started school and no longer needed to be watched by her loving grandfather.
But luckily Ren now has three full years worth of beautiful memories with her grandfather that otherwise would have been lost with him when he passed on from the world. Now she can go back through all the great times that they had together. But that’s not where her story ended.
Ren posted pictures of the gift her grandfather gave her on Twitter and the post quickly spread like wildfire. Her post has been retweeted over 160,000 times and it’s still growing. The gift had such an impact on her life that she now says that she wants to do the exact same thing for her grandchildren.
“I’ve had so much feedback from other kids my age who say they want to get closer to their grandparents. Or, it’s been a real eye-opener for them to appreciate their grandparents while they are still here. I truly don’t think that I will ever have a gift that is greater than this,” Ren says.
As the economy worsens and families around America are having to tighten their purse strings it only makes sense that able family members chip in to help out with the new family members by watching them while their parents are at work.
After all, anyone with a child knows that childcare is something that is becoming increasingly more and more expensive. So, naturally, the retired members of the more tight-knit families agree (generally very willingly) to watch their young granddaughters and grandsons. It not only saves money for everyone involved, but it also is a way for the family members to become closer at a very young age.
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