What Can a Man Learn from His Grandparents?

by Marcus Brotherton on December 9, 2013 · 64 comments

in Relationships & Family


Marcus’ grandparents in 1948

This holiday season my aunt Ruth is putting together a book of remembrances about her parents, Bob and Hazel Lynes, my maternal grandparents, and asked for stories.

I was fortunate to have admirable grandparents. Thinking back through the years proved a valuable exercise for me, and I encourage you to do the same with your grandparents—even if they weren’t so admirable. You can always learn what not to do.

Your grandparents may still be living. If so, the holiday season can provide a good opportunity to get together with them and ask questions.

Your grandparents may be deceased, like mine. Use this season to swap stories with family members, thinking back to what you enjoyed and learned.

Here are a few categories to help prime the pump.

Learn from their work

bob lynes

Bob Lynes as a young man

When my grandfather Bob Lynes (1914-2002) was a young man, he worked as a dry land wheat farmer.

Water cost money, which he didn’t have. So he depended on no other irrigation than the little that fell from the persistently hot and cloudless Montana sky.

Some years, particularly when he first started farming by renting land from other folks, crops were bad, and food for his young family was tight.

Then he risked everything, put a down payment on his own acreage, worked hard, and held his breath. In 1948, his first year on his own land, the soil yielded a bumper crop.

He paid off the mortgage and settled their bills, and one day after all the necessities had been paid for, Bob Lynes drove home in a brand new 1949 Ford sedan.

That happened before I knew him, but I can only imagine how he felt—a father of a young family—after so many years of hard work and disappointment and struggle and eating rabbits he’d shot himself because there was no other food for his kids…

And then one year was finally his year.

What did your grandparents do for a living? How did they navigate the ups and downs of changing economic times?

Learn from their idiosyncrasies

Montana farmers are known to be a breed unto themselves. Grandpa would rather plow a field than play baseball. And he was curious about everything.

If you were driving somewhere with him and he was behind the wheel, he’d be looking off to the side at a field wondering aloud how many bushels they got to the acre.

One time, when I was 5, he and Grandma were visiting us when we lived in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. It’s a different climate in BC’s lower mainland, all rain and dampness and green growth.

Grandpa spotted a piece of moss growing on a piece of driftwood by the sea and wondered what it tasted like. He popped it in his mouth, just for the experience, and chewed.

We kidded him about that for years. Hey Grandpa, remember that time you ate moss?

What unconventional things did your grandparents do? How was that part of the fun of being around them?

Learn from their gifts to you


Hazel Lynes as a young woman

My grandmother Hazel Lynes (1915-2003) could cook and can and butcher chickens and sew and quilt and knit and crochet and raise children and grow a garden and ride a horse and manage a laundry mat. Yes, she managed their retirement business but never really liked it. She was a farm girl at heart.

She was a petite woman, maybe 5 foot 2 if she stretched, but Greatest-Generation strong.

One day in her early 70s, she was out working in her garden and noticed a rattlesnake nearby. It wasn’t coiled yet to strike her, but she couldn’t let it go to threaten the neighbor’s kids. Calmly, she chopped it in two with her hoe. Then she went inside and took her heart medication.

Right before I headed off to college Grandma made me a quilt. In my youthful self-importance I didn’t appreciate the gift then as much as I should have, but I do now, nearly three decades later.

We still have that quilt, my wife and I. Its edges are frayed, and swatches of cloth have worn thin, but we use it for picnics. We sit our own kids down on that quilt on the front lawn in the summertime and eat burgers and fries, ice cream and shakes.

Did your grandparents give you material possessions? Or did they give you examples of strong character? How did their gifts impact you, and what was your reaction to the gifts?

Learn from their activities with you

A wildness exists in the hearts of Montana folks, a rebellion of necessity perhaps, and when kids grow up on a farm they need to be able to do useful things earlier than most.

Like drive.

Years before my older brother and I had our licenses, Grandpa let us drive his truck.

He’d take us out to the old ranch, where miles upon miles of gravel roads laced together, and he set us free. To a 12-year-old boy, there was nothing better than going 55 with one of your arms out the window, the other arm cool on the wheel.

What activities did your grandparents do with you that you appreciated most?

Learn from their strengths

Grandma was all love with the family. But she had her snake-chopping side too. Once when Grandpa Bob pulled out in traffic without looking, she called him a “blockhead.” Immediately remorseful at the idea of slighting her husband, whom she loved dearly, she apologized to him—and to all of us in the backseat—for the next five miles.

When Grandpa was older, in his 70s, he sang solos at their tiny little church in Fort Shaw. The Old Rugged Cross was one of his favorites. In his younger days he was a moral man, but a Christian only in name. In his later years he got serious with God.

Grandma got sick and went into the hospital and nearly died, but she rallied. His wife’s brush with death shook Grandpa’s world, and he turned to his faith in new and deeper ways. His faith always seemed one of action, not of word. After he retired he volunteered down at the skid row mission, helping roughhewn men get back on their feet.

How did your grandparents’ example of living match their belief systems, and how did you see their integrity demonstrated in real life?

Learn from their aging


Bob & Hazel in 1997

Over time, they both grew old. Really old.

Grandma went blind in one eye, yet she seemed to accept the brutality of aging more naturally than Grandpa did. Grandpa always hated being old.

They moved from their house to an assisted living place. Then to a different one where they got more care. Then they moved across country to Roseburg, Oregon, to be near my aunt Wendy so she could look in on them. They hated leaving Montana, but the move was a practical need.

Grandpa had a series of mini-strokes and it was hard for him to talk after that. Most days, all he enjoyed doing was sitting in his chair watching old re-runs of M*A*S*H.

One day toward the end, while sitting at the table in their care home surrounded by elderly people in similar conditions, he and my mother were looking out the window at a field outside. She asked him, “Do you ever wish you could just jump on a tractor and go plow that field?”

Grandpa got a really bright look in his eyes, one that hadn’t been seen in months. He turned to look at her and slowly said one word:


How have your grandparents handled the aging process? Did they fight it or accept it? What did they enjoy doing most when they were young that they can’t do anymore?

Learn from their legacies

Grandpa passed away first. To honor his earlier request, family members took his body back to Montana to bury him in the earth he loved so much. The land he worked with his hands for so many years.

Grandma died just eight months later. Care workers found her peacefully kneeling by her bed. Her last act on earth was prayer.

Family members took her body back to Montana and buried her next to Grandpa, in a small windswept cemetery, on a hill in Big Sky Country.

YOUR TURN:  tell me about your grandparents. What are some of your best memories of them? What did they do well? What have you learned from them?


Marcus Brotherton is a regular contributor to The Art of Manliness.

Read his blog, Men Who Lead Well, at www.marcusbrotherton.com

{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Adam December 9, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Thanks for your post!
My Grandpa Jack passed away 4 days ago. I told my mom today that I can’t help but laughing. Grandpa Jack told me a joke or ten every time I saw him. Even when his Alzheimer’s got worse he still told jokes, it was just the same joke over and over and over again. Even on his bad days he was a light to those around you.
My other Grandpa, Bruce, taught me to take good care of my things. Bruce still has and uses things he has had “forever”. He grew up on a sugar beet farm during the depression. There was nothing disposable so he still thinks nothing is disposable. Needless to say, he is a wise man.

2 Greg December 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Wow, Marcus, great and moving post. Your self described “youthful self importance” is great writing, rivaling Fitzgerald, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I only knew my paternal grandmother. My other three grandparents were long dead before I was born, but my nana was an amazing woman and all eight of us grandkids swear she liked us the best.

3 Jacob McKenzie December 9, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Thanks for sharing. I preached my grandmother’s funeral a couple months ago. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I got to live with my grandparents while I was in college and spent most summers on their small farm as a kid. They had no idea what a wonderful legacy they were leaving. I wouldn’t have found my wife, or calling in life without them.

4 Andy December 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm

This was a great post. I have two stories about my grandfather, who just turned 91 and is still moving around like a 70 year old. He grew up in the coal-mining, steel-pumping town of Pittsburgh, and through the ingenuity and hard work of his own father (an immigrant from Poland/Russia), grew up tough and thirfty, but I think happy.

First, a few years back I asked my grandpap about how he managed to stay so active as he’s gotten older. His response was, “Make sure you sweat everyday.” He still does, and I’ve endeavored to do so each day since.

Second, he told me the story this past summer about what it means to be “rich” in life. He’s lived on the same street that he grew up in, a few doors down from his original house, in a house that he helped build with his own two hands. He’s never had much money to throw around, but has always been generous. One of his neighbors who has been there forever as well, had come up to him, and told him, “Ray, I don’t know if you realize it, but you’re a rich man.” My grandpap looked back at him laughing, and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about – you’re the successful one! Look at your career and your house and the money you still have.” His neighbor replied, “There’s different kinds of riches. I never settled down and don’t have much of a family. You’re the rich one. Your kids and grandkids visit all the time. So you’re the rich one.” It’s just a paraphrase, of course, and I’m not sure if my grandpap believes him or not, but I remember him saying that there’s something to what his neighbor had said. And I happen to think he’s right. There are different kinds of riches – and surrounding yourself with love as you age sounds like riches to me.

5 Carlos December 9, 2013 at 10:50 pm

This one hit a chord on me.
I just lost both my grandparents this year. My grandpa passed away on July, grandma followed him 4 months later. I guess it’s the sign of true love, to follow the other to the “afterlife” – if such exists. -

Well, my grandpa before dying (a week or so) told me something very interesting: “Son, don’t you ever stop being a good man, because that’s all we have. Ourselves. And what we do, is what we leave to this world, after we’re gone”. We used to listen to classical music a lot, being myself a classical music student, we enjoyed it so much, at the same time we had chats about his youth, his adventures and how he handled to find always a suitable job for him. He was a sea-man (worked on ships). My grandma, before she passed away, told me something just as interesting as my grandpa: “Son, don’t stop smiling. Be strong. You’re a good man. Be always grateful for what you have, even if it’s little”. After Grandpa Julio passed away, I took care of her (her name was Maria Eugenia) ’cause, while my grandpa was in agony I promised her I was going to be with her no matter what. And I kept my word, as a true man.

I cannot deny how sad I still feel, but on the other hand, I feel good ’cause I was together with my grandparents up to the end of their lives.
Thanks once again, for sharing your story.

Greetings, from Guayaquil – Ecuador.

6 Devin December 9, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I am 25 years old. My lessons are still raw and forthcoming.
From my maternal grandma.- Don’t wait too long to love AND nourish your family. She waited to long to try and forge the family she wanted. Now she loves those who..don’t really love or respect her back.
From my Paternal grandmother.- Don’t forget about the grandchildren who you don’t see. She raised me for a part of my youth, but once I moved away to live with my mother again, she forgot about me. I learned this once I saw her at the most recent family reunion. After years of her only living in my memory, I barely got a hug.
From my maternal grandfather and his father.- Love can be shown in the smallest of moments. The 50 cent coin they gave me, which I still have today, is the only material proof that I have that they exist. I watched as his father fished it out of his pocket, then gave it to his son who gave it to me.
From my paternal grandfather.- Leave something. Anything. Because the only proof that I have of your being alive is that fact that I am here. I feel your heirloom of absence everyday.

7 Garrett December 9, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Both of my grandmothers are still alive, one of them I live with.
Both of my grandfathers died before I could ever know them, and I feel their presence and influence constantly. My mother’s father, Mac, was a airplane mechanic in the Korean war. When he returned home he could have easily gotten a job at the enormous Lockheed plant nearby, but he couldn’t stand working for somebody so much that he opened his own sign shop. He painted signs for just about everybody, my Dad said that he remembered as a kid thinking that all of the signs in the world had the same general look, but what he didn’t realize was that were all locally painted by his future father in law. Mac loved a good hot dog and cigar, and didn’t do much apparently to help his health. He loved westerns, and named my mother after a Gene Autry song, “Maria Elena.” One of his favorites was Blazing Saddles, which is one of mine too. My Mother says we are extremely similar in many ways. We both love the same movies, music, food, etc. She tells me that when I was a newborn that he would intentionally wake me up and say “Woops! Looks like he’s woken up!” just so that he could play with me some more. He was a very humorous man. Unfortunately his many years of not taking care of health got to him before I even turned 2 years old.

My other grandfather is more in the category of “What not to do.” My Dad has told me “He was a great man, when he wasn’t drunk.”
Andy (His first name was Inker, an Indian name) had a military background as well. I can’t remember much of his history off the top of my head right now, but what was most important in his life were two things. 1. Seeing “King of Kings” on the TV and giving his life to Christ. 2. The moment where, in an attempt to be amiable to his co-workers, he decided to take a drink.
This started a downward spiral in his life in which, among other things, he attempted to murder my father on numerous occasions. To this day, both my father and have not nor will ever take a drink. To play with a fire such as that could possibly lead to the ruination of a relationship with your family. It is a mistake that will not be repeated. All of the men in my father’s family before him were alcoholics, it only takes one to stop a cycle. As Andy grew older, he gave up smoking and would spend what was his smoking time sitting in the car listening to preachers on the radio. He would read his Bible daily. It was one of these times out in the car in which he had a heart attack and died before I was born. I wish I could have known him, and other than his alcoholism he sounded like a fantastic man. It was a sad tragedy of weakness.

I thoroughly anticipate the day in which I shall meet my two grandfathers for the first time in the presence of our Lord and savior.

8 Xenos December 9, 2013 at 11:43 pm

Well, my biological grandparents on my dad’s side, I’ve met his dad twice in my more’n a quarter century on this earth, and his mother… Well, let’s just say that’s the only time I’ve ever been physically abused.

So from them, I learned what NOT to do.

My mother’s parents, on the other hand, were emotionally and verbally abusive, although I didn’t realize that until I was a bit older.

So again, I learned things NOT to do.

The man I call my grandpa was no biological relation to me at all. He taught me about cars, taught me to fish, and reinforced the lessons my parents sought to teach me-hard work and sacrifice pay off in the end.

He taught me that families take care of each other. He taught me, like my father taught me, if there’s a task worth doing, it’s worth doing RIGHT.

“A hard day’s work ain’t never hurt no one,” he’d tell me, “and if you manage to make it through the day, stinkin’ an’ sweatin’, you’ll be a better man for it, and sleep like you’ve earned it.”

Well, these days my “hard work” is working with recovering drug addicts (of which I am one, clean these nearly 9 years), and while I may not come home stinkin’ an’ sweatin’, Lord knows I’ve earned my rest by the end of the day.

I hope like hell Papaw is looking down on me, smiling, and waiting on me to catch that 50lb catfish he swears up and down is out there in High Rock…

9 John Stewart December 9, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Here’s an essay I wrote a few years ago about my grandparents, and the family cemeteries:

10 Alex Carlson December 10, 2013 at 12:11 am

I never met Pat, my maternal grandfather – he died a few years before I was born. But his legacy shaped me indelibly.

Primarily I learned about honor and self respect from him. He was shot in the Pacific theater while tending to a wounded medic and woke up in Walter Reed with his right leg amputated at the hip. Neither that injury nor the lifelong hassle and pain from his primitive prosthetic kept him from marrying the love of his life, raising two daughters, and running his own HVAC business. He worked for everything he had, and he did it on one leg, in substantial discomfort, with a smile on his face.

Additionally, Pat had a penchant for employing the downtrodden and societal outcasts – he found a homeless man sleeping in one of his company vans, and told him, “Either you find somewhere else to sleep or you come work for me.” The man became a loyal employee for nearly a decade, and there are family holiday photos with him in the picture.

(Rather more notoriously, he employed an ex-con named Clyde Stanley who later was convicted of double homicide. Clyde gave him an electric guitar and banjo he made in prison (the first time) to settle a debt with Pat. I still have the banjo, but the guitar was stolen from my house in a break-in.)

My paternal grandfather, Frank Sr., is a different, though equally inspiring story. I knew him all my life, and I loved him in the way only a boy can love his Papa. I was only beginning to know him as an adult, as friend, when he died.

He was always the life of the party, and having four daughters and one son – my father, also Frank – the party was always sizable. Gregarious, charming, hilarious, quick-witted, talented, loving – the man was an example to follow in life. But the most important lesson he taught all of this family was how to die.

On a Tuesday night in February 2011, shortly after his 91st birthday, a pulmonary embolism reared its head and sent him to the ER. After learning the details of the procedure and the odds of survival, he decided against any medical intervention. His time had come. Naturally this news was received with great consternation by the family around him, but he was a strong pillar of certainty. He knew it was his time. But he didn’t go without saying his goodbyes.

Over the course of around 72 hours, he held on – sometimes naturally, sometimes aided by narcotics for the pain – as all of the family he had in the world that was able to travel came to his side. The only ones that couldn’t make it were his elderly sisters, who he called on the phone to speak to and pray with (despite losing his faith long ago) one last time.

Near the end he was drifting in and out of a drug-induced stupor, but when he was lucid he was obviously still himself. By this point, everyone who could possibly make it was present in his room, and given the uncertainty of the situation we were all basically standing around chatting quietly but mainly staring at our usual leader lying in the bed.

He lit up as he looked around the room, and he made eye contact with everyone. The moment registered visibly on his face and he said, “You’re all here!” He choked back tears, only for our sake.

During the preceding hours and after that moment, he made a point to bring every single person to his bedside for a private chat. Everyone. All of his children. Their spouses. His grandchildren. My (very long term) girlfriend. My cousin’s new wife. He made time for all of us, but he did it in such a subtle way that none of us realized what he was doing until the very end.

Out of this whole experience, though, there’s one moment that will always be with me. And this is the single most important lesson he taught me.

There was a period where the morphine was really working in his favor, but he’d come in and out of normalcy in waves. So we’d hang around while he lolled off in dreamland, waiting for him to come back around to chat some more. He had pretty well shaken off the cobwebs at a certain point when my grandmother came to sit next to him. She was just going to sit in her chair by his bed, but he pulled her closer.

She sat on his bedside, and they shared a look that was the purest expression of love I’ve ever seen. I swear in that moment I witnessed time travel. I saw them as teenagers, when they were first beginning to understand that their love for one another was mutual, and deeper than they had ever imagined. The decades of love and life together were in their faces, but the years pulled back to reveal the sort of pure joy that’s reserved for the young.

That look they shared was the most profound thing I’ve ever experienced. It was a lifetime of love, surrounded by the family they raised, encapsulated in an instant.

Several hours later, when he seemed uncomfortable and unable to rest, I asked if he would like everybody to clear the room so he could sleep. He said yes, and touched my hand. My grandmother stayed behind. Before the family had all filed into the waiting area, he was gone.

But by that point he had brought all of us to the position of acceptance that he had arrived at many hours ago when he declined the heart surgery. We were finally as ready as we’d ever be.

He knew that, and he knew his job was done. He had taught us all that he possibly could in his life, to the very end.

And don’t even get me started on my grandmothers…

11 Zac December 10, 2013 at 12:18 am

I am fortunate to have had significant influence from all of my grandparents. My grandfathers, one of whom is still alive today, have embodied all it means to be a man.

My grandfathers, one a college old boy who did little to hide his thirst for education, higher thought, the prestige of tradition, and the other, a working class carpenter with a kind heart and a bank of war stories. A man who literally built his house with his own two hands. These men have taught me what it means to be a man; reconciling inquiry and old boy stature with working class guts and resolution.

12 Xach Taylor December 10, 2013 at 12:46 am

My grandfather taught me a lot. Some of my first real memories of are of either him indulging me childish requests or of pouring him a beer from the “tap” he had in the basement.

I never really understood the reason he would always come in from work, as a road paver, and have vanilla ice-cream. Almost every time ,*Chuckles* He would come in from work have a bowl of vanilla ice-cream, and then play with his “first grandson in 32 year.” It wasn’t until I pulled a triple doing landscaping, paving drive ways, then going to do an over night crack filling that I understood. If you have never done that I recommend it for your character.
It taught me a lot about what it meant to be a man…. Doing what ever you had to to make ends meet. He is the reason I became what I am today. There is nothing like what you get from a hard days work and a bowl of ice-cream to recoup.

13 Bernat December 10, 2013 at 2:31 am

I never met my mother’s father. I was named after him. I was lucky enough to know my great grandmother, though. All my grandparents (and great grandmother also) were very tough and went through things I can barely imagine. My other grandfather, the one I know, he is a man with a heart too big for his own sake; he is always worrying for my parents, for me and my sister… and yet he pretends to be “dumb” and grumpy. When he was a kid a bomb fell on his school and he was trapped under it for a day (one of only 10 survivors). His mother (the great grandmother I met) had come from Andalusia to Catalonia by foot, giving shelter to any kid she would find without parents because of the war, even though she had almost nothing to eat. My father still remembers that when he was a kid, they had to hunt small snakes and use snow to make soup.

My grandmothers are both also very strong. One of them was born from the maid (single) of an aristocratic family, which, as you can imagine, caused some trouble in those times. She is very, very smart, she learned to read (when she was 3) and count and do math by herself, she worked since she was 10 hard as hell and yet she managed to manage her house and raise my father and his sisters. Her and my grandfather went through a lot so my father and his sisters were able to get a proper education. And when I started the university I spent many nights in their home.
The other grandmother was born near the river “Ebro”, where the infamous battle took place. She ran away with my grandfather (the one I never met) because she was going to be forced to marry a man she did not love. Until last year (she is 90) she had almost complete control of everything surrounding the family and, despite her being a bit old-fashioned (she didn’t let me wash dishes, for example), she performed amazingly. She has been a widow for almost thirty years now and she still griefs my grandfather. They say he was very kind and very loved by all his town. My mother says that all the village was present in his funeral, all of them were his friends.

The other day I read an article here about starting a journal and I thought ‘Hell, I wish my grandparents had written one’. Well, I can only hope that my grandchildren want to read mine :-) .

14 Joshua Jordan, KSC December 10, 2013 at 2:58 am

A man can learn a lot from his grandparents, especially if he has poor examples for a mother and/or father or if one or both parents are absent for an extended period of time. Sometimes, the closest thing a man will ever know to a mother and father are his grandparents and sometimes this is unnecessary and is the choice of the parents.

My grandfather is one of the greatest men that ever lived. But, discussing that crosses the line from the social to the personal.

15 Chris Stubbs December 10, 2013 at 5:31 am

I posted this a few days ago, on Pearl Harbor Day. It is one of many stories about my grandparents; my link to the “greatest generation”.

Seventy-two years ago today, on a Sunday morning on Oahu, my uncle walked out on his porch to get the paper for his father. Hearing the sound of radial engines overhead, he looked up to see two fighter planes with Japanese markings fly by.

On hearing explosions, my grandfather, AD2 Henry Stubbs, looked out the window of his home in Navy housing to see smoke rising from Pearl Harbor. He rushed out of the house toward the base, and under fire, rode a launch across the harbor to Ford Island.

My grandmother watched out the window as the attacking planes continued to rain destruction. Decades later she would say that when she closed her eyes she could clearly see the fighter planes flying by the window of her two story home. Shortly after the attack began, base security came to evacuate the housing residents. My grandmother grabbed my uncle by the hand, and on foot followed the crowd of dependent families. When the attack seemed over, base security refused to let the residents return to their homes. My grandmother, a firecracker until the day she died, “repurposed” a Navy jeep and drove around a Marine barricade, back to her home to wait for my grandfather.

After the attack my grandfather was tasked with retrieving the Sailors killed in the attack, whose bodies now floated in the harbor. This he did in a launch from Ford Island.

The night before the attack (Saturday), my grandfather had two of his childhood buddies over for dinner and some beers. They were ship Sailors in port for a few days. Being too drunk to drive home, my grandfather invited them to spend the night. My grandmother however, embarrassed that they didn’t have enough blankets for everyone, offered to drive them back to their ship, the USS West Virginia. They were both killed the next morning.

My grandparents very rarely spoke of this day. In fact they didn’t even discuss it with their children until they were grown.

Remember those who served, and those that fell, at Pearl Harbor seventy-two years ago today. These every-day heroes shaped our Navy, and our country. They sacrificed for those they loved, and those they didn’t even know… and they should not be forgotten.

16 Cowboyup December 10, 2013 at 5:41 am

I learned that no matter how wholesome, kind, self sufficient, generous, and Christian of a life you live in the end there are douchebags out there just waiting to screw you over right into the ground if given half a chance.

17 Dylan Thompson December 10, 2013 at 7:11 am

Writing a letter to my grandad now. A handwritten letter is the sort of thing he’d appreciate. I’ve began to really appreciate him over the last few years, as the person in my family that I’m most like and most want to be like.

18 Aaron J. Baylis December 10, 2013 at 7:26 am

Thank you for the post. It’s been a year on the dot since my grandma passed away. I think of her every single day, and will always be grateful that the last words I spoke to her were ‘I love you.’ She used to visit her youngest son’s property when she lived in northern Michigan while he was in California and she’d mow his lawn with a push mower and trim the trees and do all sorts of things like that. ‘Grandma Kay’ was a Rosie the Riveter near Detroit during World War II and was full of vim and vigor right up to the end.

19 Kessa December 10, 2013 at 7:28 am

I was lucky enough to know my grandparents – both sets – and my great-grandmother Hazel Roberts Reynolds – my mother’s maternal grandmother. Nana Hazel was born in 1900 and told stories of when she ran to the schoolhouse doorway with the rest of the class to see their first car drive by. She grew up the daughter of a Northeast Maine blueberry farmer. I still have her mother’s spinning wheel hanging on my wall, and her hall tree is used daily in my home. She is the one that encouraged my dreams of being a writer and every time I see the two antique school books that were hers, I think about her words of wisdom.

Her daughter Helen married Ed Graff – a ‘self-made’ man who could sharpen a saw (any blade really), hunt and butcher a deer, grow crops and built his own house with his own two hands. His grandson, Eddie Graff, now owns that same house. “Bampi” as we called him taught me to handle a gun, track and hunt, and how to be self-sufficient. He often said he felt closer to God sitting in the woods with his back against a tree than in a polished pew in church.

Helen raised seven children, losing the first two in a house fire when they were babies. During WWII and again during Vietnam, the nearby base often found several of its men at Helen & Ed’s table for a home-cooked meal. Their eldest son, Henry, served in Vietnam and I remember meeting the soldiers and sailors that would help chop wood or fix a car in exchange for one of Nana’s amazing meals. She later helped Henry run his restaurant and did all of the cooking for the successful business.

My father’s parents lived in California, so I didn’t know them as well, but his father came for high school and college graduations and talked about how he only dreamed of his children and grandchildren being able to get an education. He’d be proud that I’m now working on my Ph.D.

My grandparents were instrumental in teaching me -many- life lessons and I miss them. Their laughter, their stories and their love.

20 Jonathan December 10, 2013 at 8:19 am

This was beautifully written.
Was reading it in class during our break and I almost started crying.

Thank you for writing this

21 David Y December 10, 2013 at 8:23 am

Thanks Marcus.

My grandparents died when I was a child(my maternal grandmother died before I was born). I still miss them.

They raised my parents during the Great Depression. My grandparents did whatever was needed to provide for their families during those hard times, including things that many of us today would consider beneath us. They indulged their grandchildren, but taught us to be good people.

Yes, their is much we can learn(both good and bad it seems) from our grandparents.

22 Nathan December 10, 2013 at 8:43 am

Anyone looking to learn something (even the writers) should watch the Jeff Yalden story, if you can find it. he came to my school a few years back and his story touched me. he talked about a topic like this one. he never really learned from his grandparents, so he talked to his wife’s. he sat with his wife’s grandfather every day until he died. when he was on his death bed he asked for jeff.

i cant tell the story like him, he was on MTVs true life

23 Joe December 10, 2013 at 9:24 am

Thanks for a great post, Marcus. My blog is devoted to my grandparents, with many posts reflecting on their lives and the lessons I learned from them. And try to pass along. If interested, you can click on my name to follow the link. Grandparents make for inspirational writing!

24 Aaron W December 10, 2013 at 9:42 am

I am privileged, and grateful, to know both sets of Grandparents. For as long as I can remember Saturday nights we went to my Mom’s parents, and Sunday nights we went to my Dad’s parents. I’ve gotten to know them really well. I’m blessed that all four of them are great and amazing people. Unfortunately, my Grandpa (mom’s dad) passed away this last Monday suddenly. He was a great example of a man, and left many stories and taught all of us so much.

Thanks for the great article, it made me think of new things about my Grandpa, and all of my Grandparents.

25 B.R. December 10, 2013 at 10:34 am

My mother’s in-laws did not find her to be good enough for my father. When my father had an affair and left my mother and I, they chose to not have anything to do with me, her, or my family. There was one time when my family and I was shopping in the local K-Mart at the same time that my father’s mother was, and she spoke not a word to any of us, not even me, a 4-year old boy. They took out a savings bond in my name and I turned it down. You cannot buy my love and loyalty, thank you.

My maternal grandfather also had an affair and left my grandmother, mother, and aunt. I have seen him once, when he came to visit. He gave me a $20 bill. We spoke on the phone shortly after my Papa died. He was always nice to me, but was not involved in my upbringing at all.

My Papa–my grandmother’s brother–was my grandpa. He was a carpenter and an Army veteran. He loved working with his hands, and I didn’t. I was a shy, bookish kid. I did manage to learn a few things from him, however. Basics of carpentry, firearms, and fishing mostly. One night, when the ladies were having an Avon party or something, I sat in his room and asked questions about his guns. When I walked out, I knew just about everything there was to know about them.

He was a proud man. He rarely asked for help and never admitted that he was wrong. Every Sunday afternoon, he would sit in his chair and watch a Western or a Godzilla movie, whatever they were showing on TBS. I would often sit and watch these with him. He loved the movies Jurassic Park and Waterworld.

When Papa got emphysema, he took it hard. He was laid off from his job and never went back to work. He had several other health problems. He couldn’t work as hard as he always had. Looking back, I can see where a deep depression set in. He passed away when I was in college. I still miss him, and wish I had him to talk to as I grow into a man.

My grandmother was a hard woman. She was also very proud, and never admitted she was wrong. She raised two children by herself and never let anyone forget it. Grandma was harsh in her language and knew just what to say to make you feel about one foot tall. She was loud and wasn’t about slamming a door or knocking something over to get her point. Having had both her husband and her son-in-law walk out on their families, she had a deep-seeded distrust for men. She could look at me and call me a “typical man” in such a way that made it sound like the most horrible thing one could be called; as if to be a man was to be born with evil in your heart and ugliness in your soul. She had ridiculously high standards and tolerated no mistakes; if she didn’t get her way in a matter, she made sure that your life was total misery and pain. She was deceptive, manipulative, and always had to have the last word. Grandma had ideals about the way people should be, and if you didn’t live up to them, she didn’t hesitate to point it out. Things as trivial as the way you walked, spoke (I have a soft, higher-pitched voice, even now, and she constantly chided me about “talking like a man”), or held a glass were prime targets of her criticisms.

However, she loved her family. As often as she made me feel worthless and weak, she made me feel safe and warm. She kept a clean and comfortable home. She appreciated education and encouraged me to read. She loved animals and always gave of herself to others. Nobody came up on our porch asking for a hand-out that they didn’t get something–food, a little money, a blanket. She never hesitated about speaking her mind–good or bad–and treated even her most hated enemies with respect.

Grandma has mellowed quite a bit with her old age. We get along much better now than we have in the past several years. She has humbled quite a bit, and still has a mean streak in her, but it’s more passive and subdued–less in-your-face and oppressive. She’s full of more love now. I think whatever inner turmoil was there has finally been resolved; that she’s finally made some kind of peace within herself.

So, I’m not sure what I’ve learned from any of them. It will take some time to figure it out. But that’s what I’m working with here.

26 MIguel L. December 10, 2013 at 10:48 am

Thanks for the reflective and great article. Both of my Grandfathers were Spanish immigrants born in Asturias. I never met my paternal grandfather so I’ll stick with my maternal grandfather, Alfredo.

Alfredo at the age of 17 in 1955 came to the Dominican Republic to work at a colmado(similar to a bodega) owned by fellow Asturians. After working for many years and saving every cent he could(he often jokes that all his coworkers would drink their week’s pay during the weekend on beer but not him, he only drank one) he became a food and beverage importer along with his brother who had arrived earlier than him.

He is one of my mentors…. Perseverance, hard and honest work are the values that he has taught me ever since I was little. He even taught me a phrase that I’ll never forget: “Buen Porte y buenos modales, abren puertas principales” in English “Good poise and good manners open all the doors.”

Even with his shortcomings, having low self-esteem and being insecure due to a troubled childhood, he managed to become successful; this to me is his merit. He grew up in a small town that still lived in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in the 1950s. He saw that there was nothing left to do there, so he boarded a ship, unsure of his future, and came to the Americas to “Hacer las Americas” as many Spaniards used to say.

Thanks once again for the touching article.

27 Josh Gentry December 10, 2013 at 11:22 am

This article could not have come at a better time. Last Friday my grandmother passed.

28 Michael S. Hilton December 10, 2013 at 11:23 am

My grandpa on my mom’s side died from cancer shortly after I was born, so I have no real memory of him other than what my mom told me. He was a great man, working as a cartographer for most of his life, even working closely with NASA to help make maps of the moon.
I had the pleasure of knowing my grandma on my mom’s side until I was 11. She was known as “The Garden Lady” by everyone in the small town she lived in, as she had turned every inch of her huge yard into a garden, growing almost everything she could. My best memories of her was helping hew pick weeds in the garden and listening to her read bedtime stories. Unfortunately she suffered a major stroke, leaving her entire right side paralyzed and inhibiting her speech for the last few years of her life.
I never really knew my grandparents on my dad’s side.

29 Mike December 10, 2013 at 11:24 am

A fantastic article.

I had the pleasure of knowing all of my grandparents, as well as two of my great grandparents.

My paternal grandparents were quite poor, but through hard work they secured a lovely home later in life. I remember how my grandmother would call every Saturday morning to interrupt our breakfast, just to catch up and ask what toys I would like for Christmas (I think she probably began asking around August). Then one Saturday morning, at breakfast, we received the phonecall that she had suffered a massive heart attack at the age of 57. Eight years later, when my grandfather passed, the house was sold and each of the grandchildren were given part of the earnings. It’s been in a Roth IRA since then so that I will be able to use it for a down payment on my own home in a few years.

My maternal grandparents are still with me, and they were the ones to raise me while both my parents worked long hours. Grandpa is a Mason and my personal hero–I like to think I am a mix between him and my father. He is an engineer and is still working at 73 because he enjoys it, and is in good health. My grandmother retired to watch me as a child, and I could never thank her enough for my childhood.

I am planning on building my home on the same 50 acre farm my great great grandfather purchased. I suppose I would be happy to be buried there.

30 James Abel December 10, 2013 at 11:40 am

My paternal grandfather was an amazing man. He found ways to make each of us feel special and would take the grandson’s (there were three of us) camping during the summer, hunting in the fall, and generally make time for us. He would travel about 50 miles just to come and get me to stay the weekend with him. I remember hunting with him most of all, mainly because we had a chance to talk about life and the lessons it had to teach us. I’ll never forget killing my first buck. He was there with me when I shot. I’ll never forget him saying “That a way, boy!”. Even now, my heart swells with pride at his words. There isn’t a time that I’m in the woods that I don’t think of him. My grandad retired as a United States Deputy Marshal and had a lot of stories to tell that I am so glad that I listened to now. I would give a year of my life to visit with him for one more day, though. Was the wisest man I’ve ever known and miss him terribly. He’s been dead 14 years and it still hurts like it was yesterday. I hope to make him proud.

31 Aaron December 10, 2013 at 11:50 am

Wonderful post, I lost my grandfather this year as well at the age of 92. He was one of the major influences in my life. He grew up on a small farm outside of Westfield, IL. The main house had a dirt floor and they literally had to hunt squirrels and other animals to eat. While he only managed to pass the 8th grade he could still use algebra to tell me how tall a building or tree was.

During the war he was stationed in North Africa and Italy, because he was a great shot they gave him twice the ammunition and made him run point. He kept his war stories light hearted, always talking about his exploits to undermine his superior officers. After his death we found his war journal, which one of my cousins is transcribing for the rest of us. In addition to the day to day stuff he also kept a tally of his poker winnings. He told me on multiple occasions if he made it through the war he would never be afraid of anything again.

After the war he returned to US, married my grandmother and started out on a successful career in sales first door to door selling vacuum cleaners in Indianapolis and Chicago and eventually with Encyclopedia Britannica where he rose to Vice President of Western United States. He moved his family to Colorado because he was fascinated with the old west he read about in books.

While growing up he taught me to shoot, fish, ride a horse many skills that most folks today wouldn’t have. I had health problems early in life and he instilled the same courage in me to get through surgeries, treatments, etc. Any advice was always simple, effective and always applicable to more than one situation. I think about him almost every day and how he would react to situations in my relationships with my wife and son as well as what I encounter in my work.

Anytime I think I have it rough, I always think about him and how his determination to do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted.

32 Shane December 10, 2013 at 11:54 am

This was a very touching article that made me reflect on my grandparents.

My Grandma Betty died while i was maybe 3 years old, so I never got to know her.

My Grandpa Alan, is still alive and well and has remarried. He is an artist and is very creative. For a couple years he drew the political cartoons for his local newspaper in York, ME.
He participated in numerous town committees and created a special painting of the picturesque Nubble Lighthouse for the towns 350th anniversary.

What I have gained the most from him is his pride in his ancestry. My Grandpa has spent a lot of time researching the Junkins line and has followed it’s way to when we first came stateside. Currently he lives on the very land where, Robert Junkins first came here from Scotland. Every year when we visit, we spend time doing some digging in the spot of the old house trying to find cool items. The last time we visited, my cousin and I uncovered the old beehive brick oven.

I hope to continue learning about my families past because of him and would love to find out about my other side of the family tree.

33 Abel Mateo December 10, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Grandpa –

I couldn’t believe it because dad had just told me, you were feeling better just the day before. My brother delivered the bad news of your passing and the next day, Nelson Mandela passed.

You lived a long and healthy 94 years – I’m glad you I got to live with you for so many years as a child and a teen.
The last time I was with you was in June in Chicago. I’m glad I got to spend some time with you. After dinner, we sat in your bedroom, you beamed with pride showing me all your pictures with aubuelita and all my aunts and uncles and many of your grandkids. It must be at least 40 grandkids and literally hundreds of great grandkids by now. It struck me looking through your wallet that the history of immigration for many Mexican families can be found in your wallet. Your worn out and tattered wallet ( you never used any of the new things we bought you), showed a progression of immigration policy and technology. Your first US ID card struck me because of its simplicity. It was your “Bracero” work authorization card. In the 1930’s the US had a labor shortage and the US government was recruiting Mexicans to come to the US to labor in fields. You left your young children and j my grandma and journeyed north to earn money for your family and to provide better opportunities for us.
That ID card in your wallet was laminated, type-written, with a black and white picture of you. Fast forward 50 years later, your last permanent resident alien card was a modern ID card complete with radio frequency transmission (NSA started tracking folks long ago), computer generated with a hologram and magnetic strip. You came to this country to work and provide opportunities to your family. And grandpa, you did that.
At the age of 36, you came to the US through the Imperial Valley to work the fields all over California – searching to provide better opportunities for your family. You never liked to talk about the work you did or the labor camps you lived in; you were always a proud man.
At the age of 38, I am working to create better opportunities for California’s children by building new schools. You first came to the US where I was now working, not as a laborer like you had done so many years earlier but as a professional financing the construction of new schools for the children of the Valley. I feel like somehow, we had come full circle at that moment. I am proud of the opportunities this country afforded our family and so many other families before.
Thank you grandpa, for being a risk taker, a hard worker, always respecting your adopted country and for always putting your family first. You provided a great example to the gradkinds and great grandkids for us to follow. Please give grandma a hug! I would be so lucky if I lived to be 94 years old!

34 Kim Luoma December 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm

What a wonderful set of stories these are. I was unable to learn of my Grandparents as they had passed on. I saw in some of my Aunts and Uncles this wonderful perspective. As I have grown older and have children I realize I should’ve been more appreciative of the roots that have now mostly disappeared. My advice is to reach out now if you still can. Thank you.

35 Steve December 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm

My grandpa died when I was eight, the only one of my four grandparents whom I knew. My father died four months later, then my mother died when I was 20. I’ve always used my Grandpa’s memory as a moral compass of sorts, though I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked, I glean from the fond memories and stories shared around the kitchen table that he was a formidable force and someone to be revered. I think if we try to model ourselves after the right people, we’ll do well.

36 Swastik December 10, 2013 at 2:38 pm

This article has refreshed those sad memories of loosing my grandparents.Fortunately, i enjoyed the company of my four grandparents until my early teens .When i was 13 my grandpa passed away .That was first death i saw in my family. When i was 26 by that time i lost both my maternal grandparents. Only my adorable but shot tempered grandma was there .She passed away this october 15th .All my grandparents specially my grandfather became my role model.He was HOD in Anatomy Dept. in a reputed Medical College.What i leanrt from grandpa was not to give up. Always struggle for your goals .He was the most educated amongst his siblings.Not only he took care of his children but also took his nephews & nieces into his custody whose parents were not smart enough to educate them.Though i know him for few years but his good & smart deeds influenced my young mind.
P.S.- Grandparents are those parents who fill the gap between parents & children.As example , devoting much time for playing with their grand kids because their parents are sometimes busy. with their work.

37 Chris M December 10, 2013 at 3:00 pm

My Grandpa Vern was a great man. The simple purest man I’ve ever met. He would do things like let us bring over any new tapes we wanted to. He had everything from Jane’s Addiction to Megadeth from us kids. Then he’d put it in his tape deck, listen to it for a while and pause it. Then he would give us a dollar and send us down to the Merchantile down the street so he could “listen to it quietly by him self to fully experience the music You know like how you do at the opera” I didn’t catch on for a long while as to what he was doing. I just thought he was an 80 year old Slayer fan. He would do work working, basic carpentry, and taught me how to whittle. He taught me that Huckleberries are the most delicious berry. He use to collect wooden decoys. When he passed our Grandma gave them out as remembrances. When I got it home the kids named it Vernon the Duck. It’s the only plastic one out of his whole collection and that makes it special. My Grandpa on the other hand was difficult to grow up with. She loved us kids dearly but because of her generation she would make comments and pick on us. For instance when my sister brought her most recent boyfriend over, my grandma’s first question was “Is he black like the other one?”. I know she didn’t mean anything by it but it still hurt. With me she would always compare me to the other grandkids. “Why can’t you get good grades like Aaron?” “Why aren’t you crafty like Lindy” Stuff like that. So when I started having my own little herd of kids, I slowly started pulling them away. I didn’t want them to go through what I went through. Flash forward to current day. I recently suffered an aortic split and could have died. When I woke up my grandma was there and all the B.S. and “youthful self importance” didn’t matter, the past didn’t matter, none of that mattered except that I was alive and she loved me. So pretty much she taught me the greatest lesson of all. She taught me how to forgive and love my family again.

38 jerry December 10, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I wished I had parents or grandparents….don’t quite know how it would have affected my life but I would have liked the opportunity….being an orphan is like being a motherless child…even if someone fed and cared for you.

39 John Roy December 10, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Marcus, my memories of my Grandparents are grand. My Dad’s parents were country folk. Chet as we called Grandpa was a practical man. He would assign me the task of straightening nails. Why would we waste them when they can be fixed. I found it an honor to be selected for this job. I still have his fishing hat in my closet and when i happen upon it I remember him effortlessly bringing in fish on our Eastern Oregon fishing trips. He never kept more than we would eat than night at camp. “Why waste the fish” he would say.

40 Serafin Nunez December 10, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Damn it! Got me teared up…

41 Dustin December 10, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Man, what a great post!!! Brought a tear to my eye reliving the many hours spent in the woods with my grandfather deer and squirrel hunting in the piney woods of East Texas… My grandparents were at EVERY sporting event I (or my brother) participated in. My grandmother would be 30 min early to get a front row parking spot to sit and watch high school football practice!

42 Nick December 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Great Post!
My Grand Fathers were the greatest influences of my self becoming a man. My Grandpa Potter and Grandpa Wilson were the hardest working men I knew. Even in their later years they could work a man into the ground half their age! My Grandparents taught me that Love, Hardwork, and Faith are the most important things in life.

43 Tanner December 10, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Perhaps not what was intended for me to learn, but I learned it so I figure I ought to share it.

Reading the end of your post placed a quote from a book that I read (some book in the wheel of time series), that being “death comes to all men”, which struck me deeply.

It’s motivated me to move forward to make the most of my life I guess, because sooner than later, I won’t have that opportunity any more.

Thanks for the post!

44 W. L. Drake December 10, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I found this post to be very well-written.
1. I especially liked your mention of “youthful self importance”. It is quite a shame that in today’s world, people (and young people especially) seem to think that they are the center of the universe rather than a cog in an infinitely complex machine. In my opinion, life is not about the accumulation of material possessions that selfishly serve the self; rather, it is about the accumulation of memories, experiences, and emotions that are formed by interacting with family, friends, and the community.
2. “Memento Mori”. We will all die one day. But it is not this death that defines us, it is the life that we live each and every day.
Thank you Mr. Bortherton for a very profound post.
-W. L. Drake

45 W. L. Drake December 10, 2013 at 7:10 pm

* Brotherton

46 Ray Henderson December 10, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I’ll repeat what I said on the Facebook posting of this topic. I never got to spend much time with either of my grandfathers, as they were both long gone when I was just a kid. I had some surrogates, though. When I was in college in the early 90′s, I worked the graveyard shift at a little diner on the weekends. It was a quiet place, and most of our customers were regulars, including a group of old-timers who called themselves the “Romeos” – Retired Old Men Eating Out. I spent a lot of time just talking with them, and listening to them. It was a little bit of everything – from dealing with women to buying a used car to operating a milling machine to growing fantastic tomatoes to living a life worth living. I learned a lot more about life in those late-night bull sessions over coffee than I learned in four years of college, that’s for sure. Philosophy, Science, Psychology, Political Science, Art, Mechanical Engineering – a master’s in every subject, spoken from experience. The best advice, I think, that can be given to a young man is to spend as much time as humanly possible listening to old men.

47 Ray December 10, 2013 at 11:26 pm

My Grandfather just passed away 3 days ago and this article almost brought me to tears. Although I grew up in a different part of the world, it just seems to me that men of that generation shared a lot of commonalities. For one thing, technology hadn’t quite invaded their lives as much as ours so in order to be self sufficient, they had to work a lot harder. My gran-ma always said that he was the hardest working man she had met. My grandfather got married, moved to a new town with my grandmother and opened a store there because he saw better opportunity. He took a huge gamble as they didn’t have much and invested all they had. He poured his heart and soul into it and his hard work paid off. The business was a success and he could further expand it.

In the last year though he became very sick and was bedridden last 3 months. I now live abroad and couldn’t attend his funeral but I had spoken to him over the phone a month ago when people said he had become delirious but he was able to recognize my voice and talk to me fine. He said some really good things that day and I somehow had a feeling that this was probably our last conversation. I had a few drops of tears roll down my cheeks after that conversation, knowing that I probably won’t be able to see him before he passes.

Anyway, I really just wanted to get it out after reading this post. Thank you very much for writing this.

48 Richard G. Williams, Jr. December 11, 2013 at 7:55 am

We all have them, don’t we? A pocket-knife given us by our . . . grandfather one Christmas or birthday; an old pocket-watch, worn, but carefully cared for over decades—tucked away safely in a drawer or old cigar box. We often pull these cherished items out when no one’s around and hold them—almost reverently—as we recall the circumstances and the man who passed them on to us. They’re family heirlooms. Sometimes these items may even hold great monetary value but, more often than not, the only value they have is to the one who knows the story behind them.

Read the rest of that story here:

49 Caleb December 11, 2013 at 8:34 am

Great article, and excellent writing, Mr. Brotherton.

I have only one hand-written letter from my grandfather and I get it out no and again. There is one line in it that sticks with me. Maybe some here will find it useful too:

“Most problems can be solved by using good common sense.”

50 Edward December 11, 2013 at 10:39 am

Great post. I know I’ve learned a lot from my grandparents over the years, especially about how to stay committed to a marriage (they are well over 50 years strong now!).

51 Romet December 11, 2013 at 2:07 pm

My grandfather was… Well, he was a man of iron. Truly.. And this is why.

He was born in the middle of the 20th century, somewhere in 1950. I know, it does not seem like a long time ago, or it does not seem like a tale worth telling, but soon it is his birthday, and since I was so cowardly (About 6) when he died, that I could no light his candle at his funeral, I feel like I owe this to him.

When he was about 7 years old, his father died in an accident. He was going with a horse to some place, I do not remember, and a millitary Russian jeep drove past them too fast, the horse got scared, and flipped his carriage over. He broke his neck.

We live in Estonia. In 1940-1950, it was occupied by the Soviets. My grandfather had three brothers, Vambola, Endel & Kalju. His own name was Uuno. Their mother, Anna, my great-grandmother was the kind of girl, that Hazel Lynes was. Anna had to raise the four boys all by herself. My grandfather has told tales about how he collected milk bottles, and sold them, so he could eat noodles. In 1960, Vambola died in a fatal motorcycle accident.

When my grandfather was about 20 years old, he started working as a builder near his homeplace.

About 5 or 10 years later, the kolkhozes started to crumble. And so the factory like car workshop, was put to auction, with all the vehicles and machinery the kolkhoz owned. Then started his greatest time. My grandmother, and my grandfather together stole pigs from the kolkhoz to sell to people. My grandfather bought together all the shares, that were needed to buy almost everything, the kolkhoz owned, including the workshop and our own combine harvester, which at the time was a little something. Needles to say, our family was kind of the richest in our home village. In in 2002 or 2006 my grandfather died. With all the work he did, he sacrificed his health.

He was the kind of guy, who could look at a new engine for half a day, dismantle the sucker in the other half, and put it back together before dawn.
He knew physics, chemistry, mathematics, electronics and mechanics. I could never be what he was. But as long as I live, his inspirational life still lives on in my memories.

Thank you for reading.

52 Vern December 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm

What a great post. Having lost all my Grandparents, and now my Mother this year, I find myself the patriarch of our family. My 2 boys never knew either of my Grandfathers, and never knew my Dad either, he died when they were little. I am putting together a book of all I remember about my Parents and Grandparents to give to my boys, before I get too old and the memories are gone. I hope that someday when my wife and I are gone, they will have something to remember their ancestors by.

53 Gene December 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Thank you so much for this post. My maternal Granddad had the greatest influence on my life.

My Dad’s father died when he was 13 years old as a ward of the state, from the result of a car accident while driving drunken 4 years earlier. Dad’s father was rejected by his step-father as a teen and left home at 16 to lie about his age to join the Navy prior to World War 2. My Dad’s relationship with his father was strained to non-existent at best.

Enter my Mom’s parents, Albert and Grace Meyer. My folks met in 1955 as two teens at a drive in burger stand in Midwest City. My grandparents had moved to “the city” (which is Oklahoma City for anybody not from Oklahoma) as a result of the recession of the early 1950’s. Both Grandmother and Granddad had been teen/young adults during the crash of ’29 and the depression that followed. Then a newly married couple raising a family during the dustbowl years, scratching out a living any way they could in the red clay hills of western Oklahoma. He would work in the fields behind his beloved draft horses from first light, and then come in, in the evening to do his chores and eat with his family and go out and hunt for furs (which also doubled as table meat) until well after midnight. He worked for anybody that needed help, sometimes for 25 cents a day, chopping/picking cotton, picking fruit in Colorado or pulling broom corn. You name it, if he could make money to support his family and farm he did it. My grandmother took in laundry along with raising a half-acre garden (which she did until a stroke debilitated her in her early 70’s) and four kids.

My Dad came to meet my Mom while being stationed here in the Air Force. He was a young man adrift, the only stability he’d had was his own Grandmother, a first generation immigrant from Austria. Dad would tell me later that Granddad was truly the only real father figure he’d ever known. They took him into their family a young, arrogant cocky kid, and showed him unconditional love.

When you’d meet him, two things about Granddad that were quite memorable were his voice and his huge work hardened hands. He had one of those booming gravely voices that carried over most anybody else’s conversation in a room. He could “holler up” us kids from wherever we might be playing or working, up to a half mile away it seemed. In his prime, he stood 6’3” and weighed about 185 lbs. When his kids bought him a wedding band for their 50th anniversary the ring was sized at a 22.

I spent almost all of my childhood summers on the farm, tagging along then working beside him as I got big enough to contribute. Whether working cattle (vaccinating, ear notching, de-horning, branding or castrating), working in the wheat fields, or repairing the seemingly miles of barbed wire fences that constantly needed fixing he went about his days with purpose. I learned the value of doing things right the first time so it wouldn’t need to be re-accomplished again later. He taught me the old ways of farming with horses as well as how to drive anything in the way of farming equipment. He’d put me on a tractor at daylight and come get me for lunch, then supper at the end of the day, that gives a kid a huge level of self confidence to be trusted like that.

Needless to say, they were frugal, which meant almost nothing was ever thrown away, you might need or could use that later. They had “made do” for so long that was how they lived, even after they had paid off the mortgage and had a five figure checking account.

Grandmother was confined to a nursing home the last 8 years of her life. Granddad would make the 25 mile one way drive at least once every day to check on her until she passed away in 1997. This was a living illustration of his love for the girl he first saw when they were 12 and said to his younger brother “that’s the girl I’m going to marry someday”.

He actively farmed and ranched until his mental faculties began to fail him at 91 years old. He passed away in April of 2006 while I was deployed in Afghanistan a five months shy of his 94th birthday. I had seen him a few weeks earlier; he had a few moments of lucidity and remembered who I was.

Not a day passes that I don’t think of his influence on my life, from his love of the Lord and his family to the never ending value of a hard days’ work done well. Thank you so much for allowing me to share this, just so you’ll know, yes this thirty year plus career senior NCO has been alternately laughing and crying as I’ve been writing this.

54 Aaron December 12, 2013 at 9:36 am

My Grandmother just passed away last week, and my Grandfather a little over a year ago. I’m so glad to see this post at this time, because I too learned a lot from their wisdom, experience, and love. Thank you, Marcus.

55 Brandon Moore December 12, 2013 at 11:46 am

my grandfather on my mothers side is (i’ll never say “was”, though he died in 2008) the most influential person in my life. we called him “Papaw”

he taught me about gardening. fishing. wood working. driving. football. hard work. resiliency. many things i appreciate more now than i did before he passed. i think a lot about him and “Mammaw” too. they were both from Kentucky and loved bluegrass music. what i would give to sit on the porch of their house for just 1 more day listening to the radio.

56 Lee December 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I never knew any of my grandparents, or any of my extended family, really. Sometimes, especially after seeing stuff like this, I feel a little bitter towards the circumstances and wish that things could have been different, but also inspired to be a good grandfather in my time. (Hopefully not for a while, though!)

57 Nicholas F December 13, 2013 at 11:48 am

Great post.

My grandmother just passed away in January. We had a great relationship and would get together all the time, so on that note it was hard. But on the other side, she lived a full life to the ripe age of 95, so we knew she was ready to go. She had been in hospital since Christmas Day, so the end didn’t come as a surprise. I’m glad she got to know her great grandchildren, and they her (though they won’t remember, but there’s at least the photos). She was one of those people who are so genuine that they restore your faith in humanity. I’m glad we had so long to enjoy her company among us.

The funny thing is, I never really realized that while she was alive. She just lived a normal, authentic, simple, happy life. It was only the evening after her passing, as we sat together and discussed, that is struck me just how loved she was and how much she meant and did for the family, just by being her. We realized that no one in the world ever held anything against her, not her late husband, her children, her grandchildren. Yet she did stand for her principles by quiet example that spoke volumes. A balance that’s really hard to strike and one that I’m sure she wasn’t even aware of in life. For her, she was just being a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, but that made all the difference.

58 Bill December 16, 2013 at 1:03 am

I was never able to speak to my grandfather on my father’s side. When I was young he’d gotten an infection from a surgeon that didn’t do his job correctly, during which he ran a high fever for four days. That high fever caused him to no longer be able to speak. Again this all happened when I was about a year and a half old, so I never was able to talk to him. He was almost an empty shell of a man. The one really fond memory I have of him was when I was about ten years old. He was in his late eighties at this time. My grandfather and my grandmother moved into a house just down the street from my home (literally separated by one house). Their house was always quiet, no television or radio for that matter. For the most part, it was just all centered around God. I would go over to their house quite frequently to do my homework, and to enjoy the peace and quiet. Grandpa was sitting in a chair to my left while I was reading a child’s version of Robin Hood. He would just sit there occasionally looking at me, as if he wanted to say something but could not find the words to say. Finally I asked him if he wanted me to read out loud to him, and he nodded yes. Well, by this time, I was halfway through the book, and it was probably three or four in the afternoon, so I picked up exactly where I was and read to him. Then I realized that there were a lot of context clues that he was missing, having not read the book, so I started over. Then, I decided it was too uncomfortable to sit at the kitchen table, so I grabbed Grandpa by the hand and walked with him to the big flowered half round couch I remember so well. It was there that I sat him down and read to him. He fell asleep a couple of times over the next few hours, but I kept reading anyway, not wanting to let on that I knew he’d fallen asleep. And then I ended the book. By this time it was dark, and time for me to go home. He was never able to say anything to me regarding what I had read, but I would like to think that as I looked into his eyes while I was leaving, that I was seeing love and thankfulness. Perhaps that is why I try to hang on to so many of my grandfather’s things. Perhaps, I feel that if I hold onto those things I can somehow experience who he actually was and fill a void I’m experiencing.

My grandmother of the same side of the family was born into a family of, I believe, ten children. My great grandfather’s nickname was Black John, who was a big German immigrant known to carry a bull whip and six shooter, or so the family legend goes, and he would use both on any man that got in his way. (It makes a great story, but I’m not entirely sure how much of that is actually real.) When she was a young girl, she went to work in a TB sanitarium (so this must be around the 20s since she was born in 1913) where she met a woman who turned her on to Adventism. This got her kicked out of the house at about 12 or so because her entire family was devoutly Lutheran. She then went into nursing a few years later. Then while she was going to college, she met my grandfather who would walk her home at night because she was afraid of the dark. Of course, while he was going to medical school, she kept pushing him all the while. Then during the 40s, after he had graduated, she pushed him to go into orthopedic surgery, a decision I’m sure he never regretted. Then for the rest of their careers, she managed and kept track of his practice. I’ve heard stories from my father who says she would sit his patients down and discuss a payment plan for them, though the bill was only for a few dollars. Then she would faithfully fill out a bill every month, or week depending on the payment plan, looking for the payment until every last cent was paid in full. After they retired, her life became even more centered around God than it had been previously. By the time I can remember, she was already into her late 80s. I think the greatest thing she gave me though was a love for God and the Bible. When they were living just a house away, each Sabbath we would go over to their house, eat a completely vegan breakfast and lunch, which she had prepared the night before, and then would sit and read the Bible for hours. I have to say that it was a lot of fun.

I miss both her and my grandfather greatly. But I do know that one day I will be able to have study sessions with her again, and I will be able to sit down and have those discussions with him that I always wanted. I simply need to relish in the memories, and be glad I have them.

59 Zack December 23, 2013 at 2:22 am

Funnily enough, I’m reading this while spending the night over at my (maternal) grandparents. I lost my paternal grandmother just this year and even though I’ve always been closer to my maternal grandparents, I miss her. I honestly love all of them and it’s only now as I realise that time can really pass by and life can really be so uncertain, that I’ve begun to treasure them. Honestly, the day I lose one more, it will break my heart and the day of the last, it will shake my soul.

60 TSE December 24, 2013 at 8:55 am

Great and touching post. My parents are now grandparents and it’s interesting to watch them interact with the grandchildren and how much they are (perhaps unknowingly) passing on wisdom.

61 MariJean January 1, 2014 at 12:27 pm

My grandpa on my mother’s side came from a family of French Canadian loggers. He inherited a family farm, which he worked along with several other jobs to support a family of eight children. He earned a purple heart in the Korean War and was sent home when he was hit by shrapnel. He nearly had to have his leg amputated; but he kept letters from his sister in his pocket and they saved his leg. My mom still has some of the letters with shrapnel holes in them.

62 David February 26, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Growing up my Dad wasn’t involved in my life at all. My mother worked all the time, so the majority of my life I lived with my grandparents. My grandfather started taking me fishing and hunting with him at around the age of four, and we still go.
Not only did he teach me how to fish and hunt, but also how to be a man with character. He taught me to walk and talk with confidence, and of course how to attract women. Hes also been around to confront me about mistakes I’ve made and helped me through the worst poopstorms possible. My grandpa will always be my favorite role model.

63 Deltaboy March 25, 2014 at 1:45 pm

1. Work Hard and Do it Right plus no job is menial enough for you to not do if you need money.
2. Faith in Jesus Christ and Reading the Bible.
3. Family first.
4. Take care of your stuff, Today in my shop I have crow bars , hand saws and hammers that belonged to my Great Grandpa’s and pocket knifes that are 100 years old.

64 Brittany April 13, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Boy Oh Boy do I have many. But one that has forever been encased in my mind. My great grandma Irene came to live with my grandparents and I in Big Timber, Montana; dont let the name fool you its tiny. Everyday when I was young she would always be working diligently with her frail gentle hands. She would tell me stories of the war and her parents while she crocheted. I am angry with myself that I never could fully appreciate the deep unwaivering love and dedication she had to ALL of her grand babies. I still have the blanket she made for me, it has been threw childhood and back and is about to make its second journey with my daugther and I. I’ll never forget her love or dedication to raising “us” kids; or the many “love taps” that where well deserved. Thanks granny for the many lessons still to be learned. <3

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