Have you heard the saying, “The Man, The Myth, The Legend”? That was my grandpa-to me he was larger than life.
“Do it Right the First Time.
Do it with Integrity, and do it better than anyone else.
Never forget that your word is your bond.
You are known by whether or not you are true to what you say.
Your handshake is your contract, never break it.”
These are all things I heard and learned from my grandpa. He was a legend to me. He was my hero, even when he teased me too roughly and hurt my feelings, I never wavered in my love for him. I knew he loved me more than anything. I believe strongly that one of the greatest gifts he left this world are some of these lessons in integrity and hard work.
My grandpa was larger than life. He was a teamster, a truck driver, A Navy cook, woodworker, ambulance driver, auto mechanic and more. He did it all. Never one to shy away from hard work, he could not abide laziness in others. He would regularly work more than one job to keep his family fed and clothed. Yes, my grandpa was a hard worker but he also liked to play hard too. He smoked like a chimney and was a true Irish drinker. He had a basement game room with a pool table, that also included a full bar. His standard uniform was black Levi’s and a white T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, just like James Dean. The pocket on that T shirt wasn’t just for show either- it held his never ending pack of cigarettes. My grandpa even rode a motorcycle. Talk about cool-he was. He was also very good looking and he knew it. A notorious flirt, he was a true epitome of a “man’s man”. He liked to take a dining chair and stand upside down on it just with his arms. He was as tough as nails but he also loved fiercely. I always knew he had my back and I loved the distinction of being his first grandchild-I got him all to myself for four glorious years until my younger brother came along and I had to learn to share. My family was a military family, and one of our duty stations was miserable for me. My grandparents had visited and when they heard what was going on, they decided I was coming home with them for the summer. That summer is a cherished memory to me.
My grandpa had a rocky childhood and it haunted him. His stepmother was mentally, emotionally, and physically abusive. He was often left to watch his younger sister in the family car in the parking lot of the local bar. He was made to take care of her with no resources or support. He knew hunger, fear, and he knew pain, and I am certain this affected him his entire life. Family was important and he made sure that his family always knew he loved them. He wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with. Grandpa had four girls but he always wanted a boy. My mom is the oldest of the girls, and my grandpa’s namesake. She was the first girl in town to go to and then pass with a perfect score- hunter’s safety class. Grandpa held others to a high standard but he expected as much if not more, from himself. Every year he would order a semi-truck full of logs and his girls would chop, split, and stack the entire load. It was important that they be able to outperform any boy or boyfriend brave enough to take them on. If you did a job and it wasn’t up to his standards he would make you do it all over again, usually with even more work added in because it wasn’t done right the first time.
Later in life he liked to call his son in laws and tell them he had a job that needed a strong back and a weak mind so he thought of them. I struggle with my weight and when I would visit he liked to tell me that he could tell I wasn’t missing many meals. It used to bother me when I was younger, but as I got older I liked to give it right back to him and I could tell he liked that.
One of my favorite stories is that of my mom and dad’s first date. My dad was a skinny little guy, who was very cool and showed up all decked out in his brown corduroy bell bottom pants and a floral print shirt that had a matching ascot tied around his neck. He played in a rock band and he was a bit of a player too. As he pulled up to my mom’s house in a pick up truck with a camper shell of all things, I can only imagine how my grandpa felt upon seeing him. As my dad walked up to the front porch, he saw my grandpa cleaning his shotgun. Next to him was my mom’s cousin recently returned from Vietnam, also cleaning guns. When my grandpa asked my dad what their plans were, my dad replied they were going to see a movie at the drive-in. My grandpa looked at that truck with it’s camper on back and ratcheted back his shot gun and said, “I don’t think so”. Believe it or not my dad didn’t back down and run away. At about 120 pounds soaking wet, he gulped and said that was their plan and he would bring her home right after the movie. I think my grandpa secretly respected the gumption of this little upstart and he let them go, even though it can’t have been easy for him to send off his baby girl, into the scary world of dating. My dad must have passed inspection that day (even though he wore his love bead jacket on the second date), since he stuck around and my parents ended up getting married. My dad and my grandpa became great friends over the years and did many, many auto and wood working projects together. Not long after my mom and dad married, my dad lost his father and I know my grandpa was always a surrogate father figure to him. They had a mutual respect and affection and they remained close right up until my grandpa passed just a few years ago. My mom and that crazy kid are still together to this day.
My husband lost his grandpa before we were married and I know that my grandpa filled that role in his life as well. Chris got just as much crap from grandpa as all the other son in laws and grandchild spouses had before him. I knew he was the right man for me when he teased grandpa right back or esteemed Grandpa’s wealth of knowledge with respect and honor, even as Grandpa got a little confused or shaky near the end. That my friends, is a keeper.
To sum it all up, my grandpa wasn’t always easy to live with, but he was very respected. I believe it was because he was known as someone who would do their job, work hard at it, and do it better and faster than anyone else. That’s a legacy that continues on in his children and in their children. A new generation is now emerging as my cousins and I have kids of our own. I like to think that as I’m teaching my children the value and importance of hard work and integrity, the memory of my grandpa lives on in his family.