Getting Better All the Time

Photo by Alex Kad on

When I was a child my grandfather seemed to be an imposing almost unapproachable figure, a strong man with a no nonsense demeanor. He towered over my grandmother who was a tiny woman not even five feet tall. When he worked in the fields of his farm he wore heavy work boots, flannel shirts and denim overalls. As soon as his labors were done he showered and donned khaki trousers ironed with a sharp crease, a dress shirt neatly tucked into his pants and dress high top perfectly polished oxfords. I don’t think I ever saw him looking sloppy. 

Grandpa never left home without wearing his fedora which no doubt kept his bald head from burning in the summer or freezing in the winter. He walked with the air of a man who knew where he was going and who he was as a person. He garnered respect that only increased as he grew older and it became apparent that he was going to reach a century of experience as a human on this earth. I was in awe of him, but often felt a bit shy around him, choosing instead to interact with my grandmother and listen to her tales of old times. 

When I grew older and more confident I realized that while my grandfather followed a rather formal routine, he also had an impish side that softened his aspect in my mind. I learned much about his boyhood and the pranks that he played on his grandmother who raised him. He confided his sorrows and struggles and became very human and wonderful to me. In fact, I often found myself dropping by to visit with him whenever I was feeling a bit down. I did not have to tell him of my troubles. All I needed was to listen to his optimistic take on life to feel revitalized. Just hearing how he had overcome hardships with determination and a sense of humor taught me that we can endure great suffering and make it back to a happy place. 

My relationship with my grandfather grew better with age, not because he had changed, but because I had grown in confidence and maturity. I suppose his descriptions of his own evolution as a person convinced me that I too was on a journey that might lead to a better sense of fulfillment. In many ways he taught me how to make the best of a difficult situation and that material wealth was not akin to real success. 

His stories were a conduit into his mindset which admired courage and compassion above all else. He spoke of understanding law officers and kind uncles who showed him what it means to be a real man. He described his grandmother with reverence for being a bright and take charge kind of woman. He saw the difficulties of native Americans and felt sorrow for the sins committed against them that he had witnessed. He forgave his father who had abandoned him and given in to self indulgent habits. He was a man who understood our human weaknesses and fought hard not to give in to them, but remained loving toward those who did. He became my surrogate father after his son, my own dad, had died. 

Grandpa lived to be one hundred eight years old and it was only in his final months that his mind faded and he seemed detached from reality, and yet he knew who I was when I came to visit and he smiled past his pain upon seeing me. I suppose that I knew that I would soon have to rely on the lessons and memories that he had given me to progress through the years that lay ahead. Somehow I’ve been able to remember all of his tales that had inspired me to find joy even in the most horrible moments and to look forward to progress and a future that would only get better according to his beliefs. 

My admiration for my grandfather has only grown since his death over forty years ago, not because I have lionized him, but because of his beautiful humanity and honesty about the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of his life. He seemed so content with how things had turned out even as he demonstrated how tough times had been. He was literally a role model for the ages, especially for me and my brothers. 

I sometimes think of how I am an amalgam of my mother and father and my grandparents. There is a bit of this person and that person who show up in the way I look and the way I approach life. Perhaps in many ways I am in reality the most like my grandfather who taught me that we have total control over how to feel about the ups and downs that come our way. Pain and sorrow are an inevitable aspects of life, but how we face down those things is up to us. In Grandpa’s world that means seriously facing responsibility but also finding the good in people and laughing even as we feel like giving up.  

My grandfather seemed to get better and better over time because he had a great philosophy about life. He passed that on to me and my brothers so that each of us has also been able to keep smiles on our faces and determination in our hearts no matter what the fates have brought us. Grandpa was a rare gift that we often enjoyed. As I too grow older I find myself referring to his words to guide me more and more often. It is as though his voice is still crystal clear in my mind as I realize I too am not just getting older. I am getting better all the time. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s