Life Lessons From My Grandfather


It’s probably been close to three weeks since I’ve blogged anything, but I spent the last weekend of August in Boston visiting my college roommate (which was awesome, except for the part where I ended up in the ER at Mass General after passing out on the street), & then just a few days after that my grandfather was admitted to the hospital on comfort care & passed away a few days later.  So needless to say my life has been a bit of a whirlwind, both physically & emotionally, these past few weeks.tears

Ever since my grandfather died, I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing a blog post in honor of him & the things he taught me, but it’s taken some time for the pain of loss to ease enough for me to be able to write about this without dissolving into a mass of tears.  Just to be clear, the things I’m writing about today are not necessarily things PawPaw taught me in so many exact words but rather things I learned from him by watching the way he lived his own life . . . As has been said many times before by folks much wiser than I, actions truly do speak louder than words.grief quote

  1. One of the greatest things I learned from my grandfather was the value of hard work. PawPaw worked as a lineman with the electrical company in his area for many, many years.  He took turns being on call on nights & weekends & many times went out in storms, snow, & ice to help restore electricity, not only in his own community but sometimes in other parts of Virginia or even West Virginia.  Additionally, up until the last maybe five years of his life, my grandfather planted & tended to his own garden, growing everything from potatoes & corn to tomatoes & beans.  He was also an active member of the local Ruritan Club & his church.  One of the greatest lessons PawPaw taught me was that there is no job beneath me.  It doesn’t matter if it’s scrubbing toilets, flipping burgers, or shucking corn, whatever I’m doing, I better do it to the best of my ability & take pride in the fact that I’m providing for myself & my familyhard work

I’m not a big fan of country music anymore, although there are certainly exceptions to that rule (namely Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, & Brandi Carlile), but there is a Montgomery Gentry song that came out when I was in high school that has never failed to make me think of PawPaw, especially these words right here:

That’s something to be proud of
That’s a life you can hang your hat on
You don’t need to make a million
Just be thankful to be working
If you’re doing what you’re able
And putting food there on the table
And providing for the family that you love
That’s something to be proud of

And if all you ever really do is the best you can
Well, you did it man

Here’s the video for the song if you want to check out the whole thing.judge quote

  1. One of the other biggest lessons I learned from PawPaw was to never judge someone’s intelligence based on their level of education or their manner of speech. For those of you who don’t know, my grandfather was from Shenandoah County, a rural area in northern Virginia close to the WV border.  Most all of his ancestors were poor farmers & almost no one in his family attended college, & there were probably plenty who didn’t even finish high school.  In any case, my grandfather was one of those people who legitimately said things like “crick” instead of creek & “pi-an-y” instead of piano (although the latter was possibly a joke).  But despite his countrified accent & lack of college education, you didn’t have to talk to my grandfather for long to realize what an intelligent man he really was.  He had a great deal of historical knowledge, not to mention practical knowledge regarding farming & electrical work, & he had traveled to all but three states by the time of his death.  Though I certainly value education & elocution, I always strive to remember, largely thanks to PawPaw, to give everyone the benefit of the doubt & not judge anyone’s intelligence based solely on their manner of speech or educational attainment because such things are not always the greatest predictors of intelligence as one might naturally assume.generosity-quotes
  1. Another great lesson my grandfather taught me was the value of generosity. Ironically, when I was a young child, to be perfectly honest I was a little afraid of PawPaw.  He was a big, tall man with a fairly deep voice who didn’t shave every day & could come across as a bit gruff.  Since I was used to my dad who is considerably smaller, shorter, shaves religiously, & is very soft-spoken I guess it’s not too surprising that as a young kid I was a little intimidated by PawPaw.  However, over the years I realized what a truly kind, generous man my grandfather really was.  I’ll never forget the time he was working at a bottling plant after retiring from the electrical company & he brought in some clothes & such things to some of his Hispanic coworkers who were clearly in need.  My grandfather was also a very friendly, talkative person who could strike up a conversation with most anyone.  A great example of this is a story that one of the pastors told at his funeral.  Many years ago my grandparents were driving through Montana on one of their many road trips across the country.  At some point my grandfather started waving at a farmer who was in a field beside the road.  My grandmother asked him if the man was a friend of his since he was waving at him.  His response was “No, but he’s gonna be.”

    Most recent good picture I have with my grandparents is from our wedding 4 years ago.  Photo credit to Triskay Photography.

    Most recent good picture I have with my grandparents is from our wedding 4 years ago. Photo credit to Triskay Photography.

I never heard this story until PawPaw’s funeral, but it was so powerful that I feel compelled to share it.  One of my uncle’s friends who is now a pastor spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house as a kid/teen.  This man’s own father was not very involved in his life, so he cherished the time he got to spend with my grandfather.  As it turned out when he went home to his own house & began talking about all the things his friend’s dad did with them, his own father eventually became inspired to take a more active role in his son’s life.  As I said earlier, actions really do speak louder than words & I’m so glad my grandfather lived a life in which his actions were proof of the love he had for his friends & family.

 I’m going to close this post by sharing one of my favorite Black Stone Cherry songs, Things My Father Said.  The song is written from the perspective of a son whose father has died, but the emotions it portrays are relevant for anyone who’s lost someone they love & is trying to carry on the lessons that person taught them.

Below are the lyrics:

“The things my father said would make me a better man
Hard work and the love of friends, a woman that understands

I hope my father knows the seeds we’ve sewn still grow
At night I go to sleep and pray he’s watching over me

Somewhere there’s a star that’s shining
So bright that I can see you smile
And all that I need is one last chance
Just to hear you say goodbye

Sometimes I remember, when you taught me to tie my shoes
One thing I will never forget, is the day that I lost you

I hope you always know the car that we built will always roll

Somewhere there’s a star that’s shining
So bright that I can see you smile
And all that I need is one last chance
Just to hear you say goodbye

And if you have a dream you better hang on for dear life
And when that cold wind blows, just let it pass you by

The things my father said

Somewhere there’s a star that’s shining
So bright that I can see you smile
And all that I need is one last chance
Just to hear you say goodbye”

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