10 Life Lessons My Grandfather Taught Me

It’s taken years for me to be able to look at a picture of my grandfather without crying. Although I knew we couldn’t keep him forever, losing him was one of the saddest moments of my life. A man so full of goodness, kindness, and love, he remains a lasting example to those whose lives he touched long after our last encounters. Here are just a few of the things I learned from him that help guide me until we meet again.

1. Play.

My parents have a picture of my grandfather on their refrigerator right now that really gets me. It’s this Navy Captain, MIT graduate, college math professor of a man, dressed in a tuxedo and probably in his early eighties at the time, standing center stage and singing in some community seniors' musical production. If that doesn’t make you smile, then I don’t know what will. He didn’t take himself too seriously, and he found joy in music.

2. Practice gratitude.

In quiet prayer and everyday conversation, his genuine appreciation for life was ever present. He didn’t take things for granted. He shared his feelings freely and seemed to understand that there was no time like the present to appreciate people.

3. If it breaks, fix it.

The man barely threw anything away. He understood the value of things and saw no need to waste. And though many called this “cheap," it taught his children and grandchildren to be thrifty, too. If something breaks, fix it. Don’t know how?

4. Learn.

My father seems to be able to fix just about anything – and I’m sure that comes from Grandpop.

5. Save your money.

He was the original extreme couponer. Our family would go to Nanny and Grandpop’s for dinner on a regular basis, and one of our favorite things was for Grandpop to show us how much he’d saved at the grocery store that particular day, or week, or month. I remember how impressed I was that he would often receive money back after shopping for his groceries!

6. Tell people how you feel about them.

He gave the most genuine, heartwarming compliments, squeezing your hand as he did so. “I love you, Katie. You’re so be-au-ti-ful,” he’d say to me, exaggerating each syllable as he spoke. And as he did, I could feel that he was seeing beyond the exterior, to a deeper place that mattered much more. He really meant the things he said. And he said them wholeheartedly, unapologetically.

7. Practice good dental hygiene.

In his later years, in order to be able to tend to this important task immediately following a meal, the man wore dental floss on a chain around his neck. Only now has it occurred to me that perhaps he was trying to teach us the importance of flossing, too!

8. Value your health.

In my first semester of college, away from home for the first time, I was comforted by his weekly phone calls and messages left on my answering machine. Although I knew how much he valued education and hard work, I was surprised to have him inquire about my eating and exercise habits more than anything else. In his nineties, he was still up early and doing his morning stretches every day.

9. Grow your own food.

Grandpop's backyard garden was plentiful and impressive. From juicy summer tomatoes, to crisp string beans, sweet watermelons, monster zucchini, and even the accidental pumpkin, the fruits of his labor were delicious and nutritious. And spending time in the garden, getting close to the earth, was good for his soul.

10. Love and respect people. 

He took the time to connect. From the cleaning ladies at his church, to the servers at a restaurant, to the cashier guy at the local Safeway, everywhere he went he greeted and spoke to people by name. You could see how much that meant to them. And they remembered him, too. He would always introduce us grandchildren with such pride. And people would say to us, “Your grandfather is a very good man.”

I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the lessons, Grandpop. Thanks for the love.

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