My Grandfather Newt died a year ago today and in some sort of divine happenstance, I literally just came across the notes I took before I said a few words about him at his memorial on the back of a sticky that had addresses for trophy places. I thought those notes were worth memorializing:
Ten things I learned from my grandfather:
- Always bring a joke: My grandfather always had a joke for whenever we got together. Some of them were corny; Some of them were hilarious. But it always set the right mood to have a joke to tell. Even when he had prostate cancer, he couldn’t help himself from humorously asking his doctor before deciding on whether to undergo radiation or chemo “Doesn’t radiation CAUSE cancer!?!”
- Learn from others: My grandfather was a big proponent of learning from others. He always wanted to share his knowledge and he always had questions for others when he met them. It didn’t matter if it was some engineering or technical question for someone like me or if it was a language question for my wife, he always wanted to learn more.
- There’s nothing wrong with a unique look: My grandfather spent most of his adult life with a curled mustache and a generally jovial look. He also had the sort of personality that no one would ever think to criticize his unique look. He had a quiet confidence and a light-hearted attitude that said, “This is what I want to look like, I think it’s fun and I even enjoy that you think it’s a bit odd.”
- There’s nothing wrong with a unique collection: My grandfather collected hats. LOTS of hats. I ended up with the bulk of them. I’ve got 58 brimmed hats and 117 baseball caps from his collection, which I’ve got mounted in a ring around the wall in my study. I’m missing another 57 that other family members took as their favorites to remember him by. Yes, you did the math right, 232 total hats in his collection. And it’s got everything from formal military hats, to dual beer-can drinking hats, to umbrella hats, to golf hats, to sports hats, to straw hats, to just about anything you could think of.
- Give your wife a caddy: My grandfather wasn’t very wealthy when he was young, but the company he, my grandmother and my uncle founded made him quite wealthy. He didn’t live a lavish life, but he always made sure my grandmother was very well taken care of, including the bright red Cadillac that she drives. Always take care of your wife.
- In-laws are family: My grandfather isn’t even my biological grandfather. My grandmother was married briefly to my biological grandfather and they had my dad before religious differences in the family split them up. But my grandfather was MY grandfather just as much as he was my Dad’s dad. We were no less family than his three biological children, so much so that when on a family reunion trip about 10 years ago, it was a surprise to my cousin that my Dad was not her dad’s full brother. That sort of “everyone’s family” attitude was obvious in how he treated everyone from my wife to my step-sister.
- There’s no such thing as a “step”: This is the other half of the previous one. My step-sister was not a “step” anything. She was another grand-daughter.
- The past is in the past: I can’t think of a time I heard my grandfather bring up something negative from the past. I also didn’t hear him endlessly relive some sort of glory days from the past. That was the past and he lived life moving forward. Right up until the day he died, he was always looking forward to the future and making the most of it.
- The head of the table is important: My grandfather’s humor was always a bit self-deprecating, so hopefully this joke he used to tell comes across right: “When I married your grandmother, I sat her down and said, ‘Look, I love you, but I’m the man of this family, so when it comes to any big decision, I have to make it. But since I love you, I’ll let you make all the little decisions.’ And you know what? In 60 years of marriage, there hasn’t been a big decision yet.” While he was never a man to lord his role over anyone, you knew who was the patriarch of the family and he took that responsibility (and yes, it’s a responsibility, not a privilege) seriously.
- Life is worth living: As I briefly mentioned earlier, my grandfather had prostate cancer about 10 years ago and the doctor honestly told him that it wasn’t very far along and it would probably take another 10 years to kill him. Considering he was already in his mid-70’s it might be wiser to just let it take its course because the treatment often takes more years off ones life than the cancer will. But there was no doubt in my grandfather’s mind that treatment was the way to go. Life was worth living and he’d fight on. That radiation treatment took a lot out of him, but he never lost his zest for life.
I miss you grandpa.