Memories of my maternal grandfather

Should probably start in reverse chronological order…

He was mentally alert right to the very end. I always thought that was a remarkable characteristic of his.  Even in his late 90’s he was sharp as a tack. When he passed this week his mind was still 100%, but his physical body could not sustain life.  As he lay in his hospital bed he politely asked his family to give him some time to sleep.

He fell down a few weeks ago and had to have surgery on his pelvis and femur.  He had a similar surgery about 5 years ago and fully recovered,  so we were not fully prepared for the significance of his more recent injury.

Within the past couple years I had a calendar reminder to call him every Friday at 4:30. We would usually about current events and the stock market,  as well as any upcoming get –  togethers. I always felt like I was mining his wisdom, and am grateful that he never gave up on trying to teach me important lessons related to money and fiance.

“A family is a partnership” he said to me once after I explained the difference between partnerships, LLCs, and corporations.  At the time, I was contemplating marriage and thought this was an apt summary.

We celebrated his 90th birthday in 2008. It was an incredible party and I was thrilled to be there.  My cousin spoke about some of the lessons my grandfather learned during the depression “no,  Grandpa, I won’t add water to the ketchup bottle to make it last longer.” My favorite story about Grandpa is the time he “ran” a 10k for charity. He showed up in typical old man gear: an old mesh cap, button-down t- shirt,  pants pulled up above his waist,  and Velcro sneakers. He walked at a leisurely pace, wandered off the course, and then linked back up with the course within about a mile from the finish line. A week later his name was published in the newspaper with the fastest time in the over-65 category.

It’s about here where my reverse chronological ordering gets screwed up because I realize I skipped a few things…

Grandpa tried to encourage me to invest in publicly traded companies since I was 12 (1994). He even gave me shares in one of his favorite companies. I thought it was a waste of time but Grandpa never gave up.  Finally,  in 2010 I told him that I never really appreciated how important it was to get paid dividends because it’s a way to get paid for doing nothing and they can even out losses. I couldn’t believe his reaction. “I never really understood tears of joy, but I’m so happy that you finally understand,” he said as years filled his eyes.

I think it was around that time that he had hip replacement surgery. I went to visit him a few times and these were really good (for both of us, I hope). I was going through a rough time and had a lot of pie-in-the-sky ideas. “I think I could make it if -”

He cut me off.  “You’re not making it.”

I needed that. It was a wake up call to start taking my life seriously and do things that have been proven to work. There’s a lot of talk about doing things unconventionally as a means of human progress.  What this philosophy ignores is that civilization has developed over thousands of years to the point that most things are already being done the best way possible. Whenever I tried to impress Grandpa with a new idea he would say “okay,  go do it then.” Usually I didn’t, and with good reason.

I didn’t make very good efforts to go and see him during college. We did work together on a few projects around his house. We helped put a roof on a few different houses, but I remember the day more for falling asleep during Les Miserables with my girlfriend at the time.  Her mom had got her the tickets for her birthday, but I was tired from working on the roof all day.

When my grandmother died about 15 years ago, Grandpa was sad, but never openly negative. He cared for her during her battle with cancer, and would always say “good bless you” at her bedside.

Before that my memory gets a little hazy. I can recall going to a hockey tryout and he started chatting with one of the other players. In my mind I was like ‘ what are you doing?  This guy is my competition. But that’s who my grandfather was: friendly and talkative.

He grew up on a dairy farm during the depression. As an adult he became a salesman. I think those instincts stayed with him his whole life. I started writing this just to get a record, but now I remember a thought that I had before he passed: I’m worried about losing his wisdom. If this piece makes anything clear, it’s that my worry was well founded.


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