Fact Check

Spurned Graduation Gift

A disappointed son discovers hidden wealth in the graduation gift he had spurned years earlier.

Published Jul 24, 2000

Claim:   A disappointed son discovers hidden wealth in the graduation gift he had spurned years earlier.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1997]

A young man was getting ready to graduate from college. For many months he had admired a beautiful sports car in a dealer's showroom, and knowing his father could well afford it, he told him that was all he wanted.

As Graduation Day approached, the


young man awaited signs that his father had purchased the car. Finally, on the morning of his graduation, his father called him into his private study. His father told him how proud he was to have such a fine son, and told him how much he loved him. He handed his son a beautifully wrapped gift box.

Curious, and somewhat disappointed, the young man opened the box and found a lovely, leather-bound Bible, with the young man's name embossed in gold. Angry, he rose his voice to his father and said "with all your money, you give me a Bible?" and stormed out of the house.

Many years passed and the young man was very successful in business. He had a beautiful home and wonderful family, but realised his father was very old, and thought perhaps he should go to him. He had not seen him since that graduation day.

Before he could make arrangements, he received a telegram telling him his father had passed away, and willed all of his possessions to his son. He needed to come home immediately and take care of things.

When he arrived at his father's house, sudden sadness and regret filled his heart. He began to search through his father's important papers and saw the still gift-wrapped Bible, just as he had left it years ago. With tears, he opened the Bible and began to turn the pages. His father had carefully underlined a verse, Matt. 7:11, "And if ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father which is in Heaven, give to those who ask Him?"

As he read those words, a car key dropped from the back of the Bible. It had a tag with the dealer's name, the same dealer who had the sports car he had desired. On the tag was the date of his graduation, and the words PAID IN FULL.

How many times do we miss God's blessings because we can't see past our own desires?



  • Typically, this tale is about a young man and his father (mothers and daughters don't seem to enter into it), and the object the lad lusts for is a sports car.
  • The gift the young scholar receives instead is usually a bible.
  • The "hidden treasure" is discovered only after the father's death, far too late for gratitude to be expressed or hard feelings to be set aside. In some tellings, the son decides to make peace with his father but doesn't make it home in time, in others; there's no element of a contemplated reconciliation.
  • What is found in the bible varies, with keys, ownership papers, or a check made out to the car dealer each being mentioned in different versions of the story.

Origins:   The "spurned bible" tale shows up in a 1990 Dear Abby column but is at least fifty years older than that:

[Dear Abby, 1990]

A young man from a famous family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. "Bill" and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation, they found the perfect car.

On the eve of his graduation, his father handed him a gift-wrapped Bible.

Bill was so angry that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house.

He and his father never saw each other again.

It was the news of his father's death that brought Bill home again.

As he sat one night going through his father's possessions that he was to inherit, he came across the Bible his father had given him.

He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier's cheque, dated the day of his graduation — in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.

Abby liked that story so much she included it in numerous columns since.

The "spurned Bible" tale is so old it was included in a 1946 round-up of overused plots:

[Young, 1946]

Miss Polly Reavis, a wealthy eccentric, has a niece and a nephew who are to inherit her fortune. Devoutly religious, she attends church regularly and reads a chapter in the Bible every day — which she insists her heirs likewise do. When she is ninety she dies, leaving nothing except two handsomely bound Bibles — one for her niece and one for her nephew. Astounded and disappointed, the two heirs put away the Bibles and devote their lives to finding Aunt Polly's missing fortune. They find nothing. When they are old and on the verge of starvation, they decide to sell the Bibles. Rooting about, they come across them; and they find the fortune — three hundred thousand-dollar bills, evenly distributed between the pages of the two tomes.

The granddaddy of this particular class of fiction has to be H.G. Wells' 1897 "The Lost Inheritance." An eccentric uncle comes into £120,000 when he is 37 and devotes the rest of his life to penning "edifying literature" that is seldom read or reviewed by others.

Ted, his greedy nephew, flatters the intellectually pretentious man throughout his life, even feigning interest in his decidedly dull writings. Near the close of the man's life, the uncle gives his seemingly devoted nephew yet another of his books, saying: "Take this book and read it. It's my last word, my very last word. I've left all my property to you, Ted, and may you use it better than I have done."

Later, when the uncle lies dying and asks "Have you read it?" Ted assures him he has "sat up all night reading it." But of course the book remains untouched, but the uncle dies content thanks to Ted's lie.

A search of the house fails to turn up the promised will, yet both the housekeeper and gardener recall recently witnessing one executed on "an ordinary half-sheet of paper." An ancient will that leaves all to the son of a second cousin subsequently turns up in the hands of a distant lawyer. The fortune goes to this other lad who proceeds to run through it in less than ten years.

Decades on, as Ted is scratching about for something to sell, he happens on the various presentation volumes his uncle pressed upon him. He kicks one across the room, and this action dislodges the will that had laid hidden in its pages, the will that would have left everything to Ted.

In 1990, Abby's column prompted folklorist Bill Ellis to recall a related tale, one invoking faint echoes of the "Gift of the Magi": A husband hoping for a boat and a wife wishing for a mink coat are seemingly disappointed come Christmas morning. The wife finds only a faded old housedress under the tree, and her husband gets only an ordinary pair of pants in honor of the day. In tossing the pants away (they catch on the chandelier), the husband notices a slip of paper sticking out of the pocket — it's a gift certificate, good for the boat he'd lusted after. The wife then searches the pockets of the dress and comes up with a gift certificate for her new coat.

The "hidden treasure spurned" theme has been around for a while. Consider this example:

[Golden, 1953]

A lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, always thought his fees reasonable and was therefore affronted when one of his influential clients offered him a leather wallet as settlement for his fee.

"I hand-tooled this myself," said the client.

The lawyer was gruff and angrily retorted, "I do not believe you understand that my services are to be paid in cash, not gifts."

The client was upset. "How much is your fee?"

"Five hundred dollars," answered the lawyer.

The client reached into the wallet, extracted a thousand dollars in bills, drew off five hundred, and paid the lawyer.

Last, we have this final example of hidden wealth (complete with the by now almost obligatory heavy-handed closing that explains the parable's meaning to all two people on this planet who might not have otherwise got it).

[Collected via e-mail, 1997]

The upstate New York man was rich in almost every way. His estate was worth millions. He owned houses, land, antiques and cattle. But though on the outside he had it all, he was very unhappy on the inside. His wife was growing old, and the couple was childless. He had always wanted a little boy to carry on the family legacy.

Miraculously, his wife became pregnant, and gave birth to a little boy. The boy was severely handicapped, but the man loved him with his whole heart.

When the boy was 5, his mom died. The dad grew closer to his special son. At the age of 13, the boy's birth
defects cost him his life, and the father died soon after, of a broken heart.

The estate was to be auctioned before hundreds of bidders. The first item offered was a painting of the boy. No one bid. They waited like vultures for the riches. Finally, the poor housemaid, who had helped raise the boy, bid $5 for the picture and easily took the bid.

To everyone's shock, the auctioneer ripped a handwritten will from the back of the picture. This is what it said. "To the person who thinks enough of my son to buy this painting, to this person I give my entire estate." The auction was over. The greedy crowd walked away in shock and dismay.

How many of us have sought after what we thought were true riches only to find out later that the Father was preparing to give us His entire estate if we only sought after His Son alone?

In his weekly paper All the Year Round, Charles Dickens reported on the bequests of miser Dennis Tolam. Tolam had kicked the bucket in Cork in 1769, and his penny-pinching ways appeared to have outlived him. His will left old stockings and other clothing to his sister-in-law, nephew, and a friend. Tolam's housekeeper received, "in return for her long and faithful services, my cracked earthen pitcher."

The help were so infuriated by Tolam's bequest that one of them gave the housekeeper's pitcher an angry kick. The crockery broke, unleashing a flood of gold guineas. Amazed, Tolam's legatees promptly dug into their stockings and other miserable garments and found them stuffed with money.

Barbara "cached cowed" Mikkelson

Sightings:   In an episode of the television sitcom Mama's Family ("Pomp and Circumstance," original air date 6 November 1987), Mama tells a story about her cousin Claude who was expecting a $50 hunting rifle for a graduation present but instead received a Bible. True to the legend, Claude stormed out of the house and didn't return until the day of his father's funeral. After the funeral, he was looking through the attic, and found the Bible. Tucked inside was a fifty dollar bill.

At this point, Bubba asks, "Why didn't his daddy just tell him?" and Mama replies, "Why didn't Claude just read the Bible?"

Last updated:   14 July 2007


    Canfield, Jack et al.   Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul.

    Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 1997.   ISBN 1-558-74501-7   (p. 154).

    Dickens, Charles.   "Wills, Old and New."

    All the Year Round.   23 August 1890.

    Ellis, Bill.   "Bibles and Breeches."

    FOAFTale News.   June 1990   (pp. 7-8).

    Golden, Francis Leo.   Laughter is Legal.

    New York: Pocketbook, 1953   (pp. 4-5).

    Tan, Paul Lee.   Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.

    Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Publishers, 1979.   ISBN 0-88469-100-4   (p. 509).

    Young, James.   101 Plots Used and Abused.

    Boston: The Writer, Inc., 1946   (p. 44)

    Van Buren, Abigail.   "Dear Abby."

    5 June 1990   [syndicated column].

    Wells, H.G.   "The Lost Inheritance."   The Plattner Story and Others.

    London: Methuen & Co., 1897   (pp. 252-261).

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