By John Unger Zussman
My grandfather loved horses and gambling more than he loved my grandmother, so he spent a lot of time at the racetrack. From time to time a small envelope would appear in our mail addressed to me, bearing the elegant raised blue return address of his butcher shop. Inside, I would find a brief note; a crisp, new hundred-dollar bill; and a clipping from the Racing Form with the winning horse circled. Its name would inevitably be Big John, or John Henry, or Johnny Diablo, or some other variant of my name.
I treasured these little missives, even though my mom always whisked the bill away immediately, to be applied to my college fund or piano lessons or the furnace repair. I liked that I received these winnings more often than my brother or sister—and not just because horses named John were more common than ones named Rick or Marcy. I liked that the money simply arrived, without my having to make my bed or earn an A or give a recital. I liked that my name alone was enough to bring my grandfather luck.
My grandfather has been gone almost forty years. Which might explain why a few years ago, when I first slipped a crisp, new hundred-dollar bill into my sister’s birthday card, she broke into tears.
Copyright © 2014, John Unger Zussman. All rights reserved.
This essay was written in response to a “Readers Write” prompt in The Sun literary magazine. An edited version was published in the April 2014 issue.