An Amazing Gift


by Kathy (Grobbel) Canapini
January 15, 2013  

For those of you that know me, you're aware how very much I love my Daddy-O! You’ve heard me say it from my little space inside this Facebook behemoth, time and again.

But if you will indulge me, I’d like to share one more story about my amazing dad. One that I hope will bring a smile to your face, as it did for him. And me, too. :o)

Alton “Oz” Grobbel, second oldest to Marcella and Clement Grobbel, is a true admirer of the written word. From the time he could get his nose into a book, he was immersed in the wonderful world of storytelling. Even the nickname that he still answers to, was given to him from one of the greatest books of all time, the L. Frank Baum classic that would inspire one of the greatest movies of all time.

And as most would agree, he can be as iconic as the Wizard himself.

He spent decades teaching people to walk out of school, and into the world of appreciating the written word, and all its fascination. He developed a system and a style so beloved, many students still credit him as being their favorite teacher. Of all time. He cultivated a library that, in it’s prime, filled room upon room with a history so rich... I still envy the young me that feasted upon the banquet of stories he shared.

That library of his changed a lot over the years. Bursting at the seams upon retirement, the move to smaller digs saw many of his books find their way into our homes. And to the library. And to the nursing homes and the hospitals and everywhere else my dad was hoping to donate the mountains of novels and screenplays and magazines and every other piece of printed word known to man, that he collected. He would be classified today, as a hoarder. And while I imagine that time was tough for my dad, he managed to slim that library down to one half of one room. My mother breathed a sigh of relief, finding it easier with a few thousand less books surrounding her. But there is one thing I remember most from helping him clear out that library of his...

Going through those books one by one, I noticed how much of himself, he left behind. And he did that by not just reading the books, but my making a special point to understand every word inside those books. He would underline specific words and phrases to better understand them, and not by simply drawing a line underneath; he would take a red #2 pencil and a 6-inch ruler, and would draw a perfectly straight line so precise, it rarely ever went beyond the serif he was highlighting. He would bracket the pinnacles. He would dog-ear the plot points and write notes in the margin. He would make that book look like a copy editor had a wild party, but he also made that book useful and intriguing and, quite frankly, easier to understand.

Funny thing is, he still does that to this day. He buys a book, and he makes it his own.

So as the years went on, and the library dwindled, he opened his love of words to the journalism side. He read everything he could get his hands on, subscribing to at the least seven periodicals delivered weekly and/or monthly, as well as three local newspapers daily. All three. For years.

And when you spend that kind of time reading the paper, you tend to enjoy the banter with the columnists that fill those pages. It was very common to have my Dad read aloud the latest blurb Bob Talbert had written about him, because Dad found himself entering a contest or writing Bob a letter, that now had a printed response. He often kept in touch with the writers that inspired him over the years... Ager, Rubin, Fitzgerald, McGraw, Falls, Pitts Jr., Dickerson, Albom... the list goes on and on. If Dad wanted one of them to know what he thought of their column, he’d let them know. Still does, from what he tells me.

Which brings us to the crux of my story. The part in dad’s book that would be bookmarked with a red #2 pencil. Extensively.

His library, or what was left of a library that can fit into a one-bedroom apartment, is now gone. Lost to the water that saved his life, and the lives of 87 of his fellow tenants, as their complex raged with fire, one week before Thanksgiving 2012. And while he is forever grateful that he walked out of that horrific situation alive, he was, quite understandably, saddened to see his beloved books ruined. Warped with mildew and bleeding with ink, he was only able to salvage a few.

On the day that we moved him from his water-logged apartment to the temporary digs my brother and his wife so graciously offered, I could see the sheer disappointment in his eyes. Not just the monetary loss of such books, but also, his time. His hours of notations were all gone, too. And I knew that kind of dedication could not be replaced. But, I hoped, some things could.

The few items I brought home to dry out and mend, were slowly coming back to life. A bible-study book, rife with red underlined passages, was salvageable. A 20x8 photograph of his WWII Army group shot (Company B, 151st), complete with names and addresses on the back, was going to make it. A short story he’d written while in college, was looking every bit it’s age, but still readable. And then, there was a small book... the first of a group that was written by a writer that dad had grown to appreciate over the years.

It was Mitch Albom’s novel, Tuesdays with Morrie.

I opened the pages delicately, trying hard to dry them section by section. I lifted the book, and a ticket stub fell onto the floor. I carefully lifted the soggy card, and noticed it came from a book signing that dad had attended years before. It was when Tuesdays was first released, and Mitch was signing them at a luncheon. I noticed the date on the ticket was almost 15 years to the day of dad’s fire. I knew at that moment I was holding a signed copy of what was more than likely, one of the first prints of a novel that would go on to sell over 14 million copies. I opened the second page to find the inscription:

“To Oz. Thanks for your teaching.”

--Mitch Albom


There it was. Sitting in my hand. The book’s red interior cover literally bleeding into his signature. This book my dad cherished and adored, and even took the time to have signed, was a complete mess. And I was not confident I could fix it.

It was then the proverbial lightbulb cast a nice glow above my head.

I had a friend take a photograph of the tattered and bleeding book, and I fashioned a note detailing my dad’s misfortune, and I went straight to Mitch Albom himself. Well, I went straight to his Facebook page, and I pleaded with him to hear my dad’s story. I asked Mitch to help me give my dad a gift that he would never forget, one that would rival a mere purchase at the local Barnes & Noble. I asked him to replace that book, and to please sign it again, in the hopes it would fill a void my dad was now lamenting.

Well, as it turns out, I have some good people in my life that saw that post. They used their six degrees of separation and that friend called a friend, which then called another friend, and before you know it, Kath got her wish. A signed copy of Tuesdays with Morrie was being mailed, and the baby girl of Oz Grobbel was well on her way to retaining her best-daughter-ever status. ;o)

But, that’s not even the best part.

The best part was, these folks that took time out of their day to relay a message from a daddy’s girl from Center Line, to a writer that’s known from all over the world... were not only going to replace one book. They were going to replace many more.

And so, it was with great pride, I sat with my dad last week and watched him open a gift that contained all four of the Mitch Albom books that he had lost that awful November day. There was even a fifth book... Mitch’s newest release. Better yet? Each one of them was inscribed, each one containing a message to my Dad. To Oz. The one and only.

So, as you can imagine, I am incredibly grateful to Mitch Albom and Company! Not only have they replaced some of my dad’s favorite books, they have also replaced a part of his heart. The same heart that has been holding the written word near and dear to him for more than 80 years. And for that reason, these kind people have become my new favorite human beings on the planet!

Thank you to everyone that made this extraordinary gift possible! It is a truly remarkable and completely unexpected gesture that I will never be able to repay. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for bringing a much-needed smile to my father’s face. And when Daddy-O is happy, there is nothing better, or more deserved, in the whole wide world! Thank you! :o)


The original book.


The amazing gift!


The new inscription. Many thanks to Steve Watz, for taking these beautiful pictures.


Daddy-O, getting his first glimpse at his new books.


So very amazed and grateful for the generosity!


My Daddy-O, so happy with his new library additions! Thanks so much to everyone that made this happen! :o)


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