Friday, August 31, 2018
A Lesson From My Grandfather
My paternal grandfather was born to privileged parents who had fallen on hard times, fallen very hard. My paternal great grandfather was the grandson of a very successful ship captain and Mississippi river merchant. When my great grandparents were married they moved into a fine hotel in St. Louis and started a family. He had been raised with money, he had been educated by private tutors. He never learned to work, or manage money. A few years into his marriage the lawyers told him, he had spent nearly all of it, there was a modest farm left, the family moved to the farm about 60 miles from St Louis on the Illinois side. My grandfather was born a couple of years later - long after the money and privilege was gone. From a young age, he worked on the family farm, and on other farms to earn money to support the family. He learned to hunt, and was a good shot, ammunition cost money, and money was hard earned. When my grandfather was a teenager, Ford was advertising $5 a day, the family sold the farm and moved to Detroit. My grandfather worked for Ford from the late 1920's to the mid 1950's. Leaving just a couple of years before the pension plan came in.
My grandparents lived on the farm when I was a kid. The farm house, had a long narrow back porch, probably 8 feet by 30 feet. In the late 1950's my grandparents enclosed the porch with sliding windows - creating a sun porch. They had an orange vinyl Herman Miller "daybed" sort of a couch with removable back cushions on the sun porch (very mid-century modern.)
I was about 12, I was visiting my grandparents late one afternoon. We lived around the corner on the same farm, I visited often. My grandfather was out on the daybed trimming his finger nails. It is the only time I ever remember him doing that. I was sitting next to him, talking. 12-year olds are hard to shut up, some never outgrow that.
I don't remember what it was, but I said "I wish" for whatever it was I wished we had. His response sticks with me 48 years later, "wish in one hand, and shit in the other and see which one gets full first." "Decide what you want, and go do what it takes to get it."
What he had in his life, he had because he had done what it took to get it. My father said, "that sounds like dad" my mother was not so thrilled with my new story to tell. Dad tried to get me to make it less graphic. But I remember it the way he said it. And it stuck.
It was about 10 years later, when I figure out that I could do just about anything, if I put my mind to it and worked hard. He had figured that out as a child, and made his way in the world.
What lessons do you remember from childhood?