Lessons From Grandpa

My grandpa was a unique man, given the times he lived in. He grew up without airplanes, T.V. and supermarkets. He was surrounded by people who all thought, and looked like him, yet he never let that form his core being.

Despite his sheltered upbringing, he never shied away from those of different beliefs, color or race. He was shunned by the majority of his family for embracing people of color, differing religions and social standing. He fell in and out of marriages as he discovered his wives were not as open-minded, or caring as he. Three marriages in all.

My mom, his second born, tried hard to make her marriage work, but my father’s change of religion drove a wedge between them. My mom and grandpa became each others rock, clinging to each other through every storm. I was lucky enough to spend large amounts of time with my grandpa, who in many ways, had replaced my father.

My grandpa ran the largest greenhouse in the country during WWII. (No, I was not alive during WWII, my time in the greenhouse came much later.)  I grew up in that greenhouse, working the conveyor belts, making baskets and tending to the many greenhouse cats kept to keep the rodents at bay. When the work day was done, grandpa and I would often walk by the river or find a nice patch of ground for a picnic. It was during these down times that he filled my head with much of what would become “me.” Things that just seemed right, common sense thoughts that riled others.

He was the voice of reason, common sense and peace in my life, a voice that plays in my head whenever I face a new dilemma.

Things I learned from my grandpa?

* Don’t let stereotypes sway your judgement when meeting new people. He told me every person he worked with was just like him. They had families, they loved, they slept, ate,  celebrated, supported each other and felt loss, just like I did. He said they worry over sick kids, homework and mourn their dead, just like us, they just do it with different colored skin. He also told me he had learned a lot of great things from people from different cultures and if I was smart, I would keep my ears open and learn as well.

* He told me religion is very sacred to each person and that I must respect each person’s belief. He encouraged me to learn about multiple religions and pick the one that felt right for me or embrace them all. He often told me, as we sat at the river bank, that any place can be sacred, if we look for the beauty and be thankful for it. He told me that sitting at the edge of the river, marveling at nature, the local creatures and trees in the forest could be as powerful as any church. If I appreciated, and thanked “my” god for this world I was doing ok.

He said no matter my beliefs, the important thing was to “do unto others.” Treat people with kindness, understanding and a lack of judgement as we never knew what burden people are dealing with when we encounter them. He told me to help those in need, care for those in trouble and never feel like I was better than anyone else just because my life was going well at the time…it could change at the drop of a hat.

* He taught me to never hate my father for letting his convictions get in the way of his family life. He told me my father was following a path he believed in, but he loved me and would be there if needed A.S.A.P. He convinced me to keep my father in my life, to be patient and understanding. It was trying at times, but today my dad and I are closer than ever.

* He taught me to be tolerant of sudden change. When my uncle, his sixth child joined the National Guard during the Vietnam war, he left a clean-shaven youth working on a teaching degree. The same uncle returned home four years later with long hair that framed his face and fell down his back. When my uncle entered the house for his home-coming dinner he was met by his mother, aunts, cousins and a bevy of other family that jumped on his long hair. After an hour or so of badgering my grandpa stood up and told them all to “go to hell!” He said “my son left here a caring man trying to do the right thing, and the same man returned to us! His appearance doesn’t change who he is.” I realized he is right. You can have long hair, tattoos or piercing, but none of that changes who you are. He was the voice of reason in uncertain times, and he molded me in many ways.

* He taught me to appreciate nature, embrace all people, beliefs and to search for reasons for someones behavior before having a knee jerk reaction. He encouraged me to learn something from everyone I met and to fill my life with great people.

* He hit me with the hard reality that not everyone who meets me, would like me. A hard pill to swallow, but I understand it now that I have met people who I didn’t like, but couldn’t quite put my finger on a reason why.

* He told me that the whole world was a temple if I embraced it. He said if I found a brick and mortar building to worship at I should embrace it. If not, revel in my fellow humans, honor nature, help others and promote goodness while battling evil.

I embraced his teachings. I don’t see people with labels stapled to their foreheads, I see them as people working, paying the bills, raising kids and cleaning the toilet.

I sowed my oats. I sneaked out of the house, drank, partied, had sex, but I kept returning to the life his words formed. He laid the groundwork for living a life full of people, tolerance and acceptance, I am just thankful that I was smart enough to listen to his lesson so I could incorporate them into my own life.

Thank you Grandpa for giving me the tools I needed to break way from the small minds in my hometown. Thank you for making me feel special and empowered. My hope is that I am embedding these same values in my kids.

c2012 Jane Kohler

 

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The unlikely, perfect gift.

Have you ever thought about passing on a treasured relic to a friend or new addition to your family, only to hesitate, feeling they will find the gift lame and devoid of imagination. Or worse yet, that you don’t care, or know enough about them to find a perfect gift? I mean, what kind of smuck gives someone a used item?

I used to feel this way. My kid doesn’t want the watch I have treasured since the death of their grandparent, right? You would never give an old, used item to a new son or daughter-in-law, they may see you in a bad light. That was how I felt before I was given the best, old, used gift I could have received.

It was 1986. I had been in a relationship with a man I met at work for three years. As a divorced woman with two children I feared his family viewed me a someone looking for a meal ticket, despite the fact that I held down a job in hospital management. A meal ticket can mean more than money, it can mean medical insurance, better homes, cars, food and free babysitting. I truly loved this man, wanting nothing more than time together. I loved his parents also, they were the most down to earth, kindest people I had met in a long time. However I never had a handle on their feelings for me.

That changed Christmas day, 1986. I must explain that I collect Santa Claus’s, all types, all sizes. Our blended family was gathered at our house. We ate, talked, laughed and played with the children. After dinner we retired to the living room to exchange gifts. My future mother-in-law pointed to a gift under the tree she wanted me to open. I tried to whisk it off the floor but hesitated when it proved to be much too heavy to lift with one hand. Once the package was wrestled into place I swallowed as I tore open the paper. I felt my jaw fall south when I realized the box contained a cast iron, Santa cake mold I had seen displayed in my future mom-in-laws home. She told me that it had been her mothers, and then hers and she wanted me to have it in the home I was building for her son and her grandchildren. Double whammy! She not only thought enough of me to hand down this mold, she called my kids, from a previous marriage, her “grand kids!” That simple, used gift gave me more than an object, it gave me love and acceptance.

Years later, I received an odd gift from my own mother, it was a large, brass key, one I recognized as being the sole key to the door of the farmhouse I grew up in. A new lock had been added to the door but that large key still turned the ancient tumblers nestled in the door. She told me she wanted to make sure I “always” felt that I was able to return home, no matter what, I also had a copy of the key to open the new lock. It wasn’t a new Ipod, or piece of expensive clothing, but I cherished it more than any other gift that year.

Fast forward to 2011. My son has been in a long-term relationship with a woman we adore. They have two children together but are unable to marry as they would lose medical insurance for the children. It took a long time for his gal to warm up to us, at times I wondered if we could find ways to bond. As time ticked by I learned more about her likes and dislikes. I love her parenting style, she oozes loves for her children and does whatever necessary for their well-being. She looks out for, and worries over my son.

Recently, long after the tree has been taken down, the tinsel tossed and gift wrap cleaned up, she sent her oldest son in the house with a bag, whispering to him to give it to me. It is piece of statuary in the shape of a snowman that sports the logo of my football team. I was touched, it wasn’t an expensive gift, at this time of year it may have been in a discount bin, but it mattered. She tied in my love of the holidays and my favorite team. She had gotten to know me in her own way, even though she didn’t vocalize it. This simple snowman gave me, once again, the gift of acceptance. The fact that she thought enough about me to not only choose this item, but decorate it in tissue and put it in a fancy bag filled me with love. I see great things ahead for me and my daughter-in-law.

So don’t hesitate to give a loved one a treasured bowl, vase, book or anything else that is important to you. It will make them feel valued, trusted and accepted. Gifts you can’t buy in a store, but ones that will build a strong family.