Last month, my family and I celebrated the life of my Grandpa, known by all his grandkids as Papaw. He was the kind of man who left everyone in his life with a smile and frequently, a good laugh. Growing up, he and my Grandma were very present in my life.
My sister and I were raised on the same block-wide piece of land he and his 8 siblings grew up on. He was a second generation American, born in 1926, to “The Silent Generation”. This generation, sandwiched between the more commonly known eras of “The Greatest Generation” and “The Baby Boomers”, was known for their hard working, virtuous and simple lifestyles. Perhaps this generation earned their name because their values, beliefs and priorities weren’t as readily pronounced as they are today; instead they were simply demonstrated in their daily lives.
Growing up, I was able to observe my Papaw, living his truths. I did not know it at the time, but without saying much, he was teaching me valuable life principles.
Here are three he taught me:
- Work Hard- My sister and I grew up on an acre of land, directly across a field from my grandparents. The back half of our land was separated from theirs by a metal fence and small pond; the field it was covered with coarse grass that required a tractor to be maintained. As a teenager, I remember looking out the window of my air-conditioned house, in the middle of summer, seeing my 70-something year old Grandpa on a tractor. I’d smile and wave, Papaw would wave back and continue his mowing. We were used to seeing him work hard—that’s the way he liked it and we knew better than to try and stop him. He was the epitome of hard working— he served in the Army, worked diligently at the same company for 25 years and maintained a garden that gave us vine ripened tomatoes and cucumbers for homemade dill pickles every summer.
- Always be on time: Whether he was picking me up to take me to school or attending one of my volleyball games, I knew that if he said he would be there at a certain time, he would be there. His habit of punctuality presented a problem for gals like me who consistently run about 5 minutes late. When I was in middle school, I remember him showing up at my house at 7:00 am sharp, expecting me to be out of bed and nearly ready for school. Instead he’s usually walked in to find me buried beneath the covers. His solution was to break out a cold bottle of water and sprinkle me until I got out of bed. His approach worked every time!
- Love: I’ve always admired the love story of my grandparents. They met in California where both he and my Grandma were working. Neither of them were from the area, yet they found each other shortly before Papaw was drafted to WWII. He did not forget her; upon his return to Oklahoma, he sent her a bus ticket and she joined him in the small house they shared from that day forward. They had a marriage of almost 70 years; their love story stretched the course seven decades, saw two millenniums and overcame many challenges that all couples inevitably face. To me, marriage today seems much different (and possibly more complicated) than it was decades ago, but if I can approach my future marriage with the love and commitment they showed in theirs, then it may not be so complicated after all.
If I had to summarize all my Papaw taught me into one sentence it would this:
Life is simple.
I’m not sure he would have said it was easy –in fact I’m sure that he knew it rarely is– we all go through hard times; nonetheless, he approached it with simplicity, devotion and love.
On a rainy day, shortly after he passed, I sat down on my grandparent’s floor to look through old photos of him as a young man; he radiated life and love. It was easy to see he carried that same lively spirit with him throughout his 89 years on earth. I’m not sure I will ever master the lessons he taught me to the extent that he did, but I do believe that if I can just keep them in mind and do a little better each day, then I will be doing, as he would always say, “pretty fine.”