Friday, March 26, 2010

Lessons Learned

It’s been almost a year since the last time I saw my Grandpa Martin. I had plans to see him the day he died, but didn’t make it in time. I suppose it goes without saying that I miss him. That spending time at the Lake of the Ozarks, something of a second home to me, doesn’t feel quite the same. A heaviness settles in the outskirts of my mind, and wisps of melancholy hover above the sparkling green water. I still love visiting. It holds happy memories for me, like years of trips with my best friend and my first love. My aunts, uncles, grandma, and various family members make it special. But no one can replace Gramps. I’d like to share a few of my favorite things about him.

1. I ran the trotline with Gramps every morning I spent in their house. He’d shake me awake just as dawn broke; I’d struggle into some clothes and meet him on the dock. We’d climb into the filthy little silver boat full of fish scales and stink, and putter off across the lake. The mornings were still and cool. The only sounds were the quiet splatter of water droplets as the slimy line pulled through Gramps’ strong, weathered hands. So we’re clear, I hate fishing. HATE. I feel bad for the fish. I went every time he invited me though. I treasured the time to be alone with him, and nature, and just breathe.

2. My family has frequented a live country music show in the Ozarks for over thirty years. The name and location of what is known to us as The Show changed, but much of the central cast remained. When two of the “stars” began letting their sons play a number the summer after I turned 12, I had my first real crush. His name was Matt, he played the drums, and it was the first but certainly not the last time I would experience that mysterious attraction girls have for musicians. The next summer, when Matt and I were 13, I still hadn’t gotten up the nerve to talk to him. After the show my entire family loitered around while people went to the bathroom, chatted, etc. I looked up to see my gramps dragging Matt over to meet me. He had him in a headlock. A HEADLOCK. My blood just flooded with embarrassment at the memory. I wanted to DIE. Gramps had no idea what he’d done wrong, but he felt bad afterward.

3. He went shopping and picked out a special outfit, all by himself, for each of his daughters every Christmas.

4. Every friend of mine who ever met him called him Grandpa and felt instantly comfortable in his home. I know all of my cousins, aunts, and uncles who have married into our family felt the same way. Gramps emanated warmth and good will. Everyone wanted to be his friend. Everyone was his friend.

5. Gramps toiled as an Iowa farmer for many years, then he built and ran a restaurant everyone said would fail. It didn’t. When he and my grams retired to the Ozarks he kept a huge garden. One summer a groundhog made its home inside the electrified fence. This did not sit well with Gramps. Grandma found him sitting on the roof of their back garage with a rifle. He didn’t come down for two days and he never shot that varmint. He did pour gasoline down its hole and light it on fire. Problem solved.

6. Gramps made it to every single one of his eight grandchildren’s graduations and weddings. My cousin Matt got married in 2003 (I think) and the rehearsal dinner took place at his parent’s home in Scottsdale. Tables littered their backyard, and the boisterous sounds of four generations of family filled the air. Gramps had gotten older and getting around was harder. He made his way among us, laughing and smiling. I got up and gave him a kiss on his wrinkled, rosy cheek and asked, “Whatcha doin, Gramps?” He replied, “Just admiring what I started.”

7. In high school I still had a crush on this Matt character. My friends and I would get all dolled up to go to the Show now; makeup, hair curled, cute outfits, the whole nine yards. One Saturday morning I stumbled to breakfast in boxer shorts, a ratty t-shirt, and my hair in a lopsided, messy ponytail. Gramps winked at me over our bowls of cereal and said “He’d think you were even more beautiful if he could see you right now.”

8. His humor. Gramps could get a grin out of anyone, anytime, anywhere. He wasn’t an easy man, nor did he possess much tact, but he treated people like they mattered even when he poked fun at them. If he didn’t poke fun at you, it sort of made you feel left out. In return, everyone went out of their way to please him. I’ve done things I never wanted to, just because it made him happy. Like eat a slice of bread slathered in homemade applesauce. I’m not the only one.

9. I have several first cousins and for how varied in age and how far apart we live, I’d say we are closer than we have any right to be. I love spending time with all of them, spouses and children included. At Gramps’ funeral last year we sat around talking and missing him all ready. At some point my cousins Aaron and Mark got in a good natured discussion about which one was Gramps’ favorite. They each had their reasons he liked them best. Mark and his pancake breakfasts with Gramps. Aaron and Gramps shared a love for baseball. He had pet names for all of us. I realized at that moment that we all thought we were Gramps’ favorite. I can’t think of a better illustration of what a good man, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather he took the time to be.

The lessons I learned from watching him are too many to recount. Taking the time to be a good neighbor, a good friend, and a good person is never wasted. Sharing what you have brings people closer and nine times out of ten they will return the favor. Sometimes it’s okay to spend an entire day with your foot up on a table, talking with friends, and worry about the work to be done tomorrow. Doing what is right isn’t always easy. Work hard first, play after. Family, especially when they are as great as mine, is a treasure. Making a child feel important and special can change their life. Reveille over loud speakers is a great way to wake up a house full of people. Pulling on big toes is a great way to wake up one person at a time. Being able to laugh at yourself adds years of happiness to your life. You don’t have to say I love you in order for everyone in the room to know it’s true. In fact, it’s okay to sit in silence and watch a game of baseball. Silence isn’t scary. It’s comfortable.

These are just a few. He was my protector, my friend, my grandpa, my self-esteem, the reason I felt special. My euchre partner. My reason to laugh during prayers. The quiet force behind my bravery. When the minister at his funeral asked us to describe him in one word, I choked out, “anchor.” He was my anchor. He anchored our family firmly together in love and respect. He still does.

If you knew my gramps, or have a story of your own you’d like to share, post in the comments. I’d love to read them.


  1. What wonderful memories you have! I lost my grandma a year ago on the 23rd. I know how hard it can be. Thanks for sharing your stories:)

  2. This post was quite humorous and touching! My grandpa was a craftsman and artist. I remember sitting in the puffy chair in his garage in South Carolina, and hearing the buzzsaw while he worked.

  3. I love this post. One of my favorite lines is: "Just admiring what I started." He sounds like a truly wonderful person; I'm glad you have so many fond memories with him.

  4. Awww.. that was very sweet. He sounds like a remarkable man.