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