Things I learnt from my grandpa

My Grandpa is my hero. 

He was the person in my life who could do, learn, or teach anything. I have always held him in my mind as the smartest figure in my family, although nowadays my Grandpa will say that that’s me. 

Grandpa, you have lived an incredible life, and you have had such a tremendously positive impact on so many others lives. 

So I wanted to write a piece that will shed just a glimmer of light onto the impact you have had on me, your grandson. Starting with what I know about you, and all of the lessons I have learned from you, telling you why I’m proud to be your grandson. 

I want to showcase just a pixel of the incomplete image that represents your life, so that you might sleep a little easier, and to hopefully inspire you to share more of your lessons and stories so we can learn as much as possible from them before you’re gone. 

My Grandpa was born in Anacortes, Washinton on the palindrome date 4.3.34 (April third nineteen thirty-four) where he was raised until he was about eight years old. He then moved to Wrangell a small fishing town in Alaska where he grew up. He learned how to fish and hunt from his father, as well as the skills to survive on his own if he had to. My grandpa played like a normal teenager too, getting into all sorts of trouble with his brother and friends. As he was growing up he was being raised with largely the same values and virtues that he later raised my mom with, which got passed on to me. He learned how to work hard, and how to earn his place. He was outgoing and strong and was able to talk his way onto a logging company when he was seventeen, getting paid what was at the time a very decent wage for a very dangerous job that didn’t last very long. He told us the story last summer of how he faked his age so that he could get this job as a logger, and I remember my Grandpa wearing that little mischievous smile that he has when he told us.I probably haven’t even heard anywhere near half of all the trouble he must have gotten into as a teenager, but I would bet good money that he wore that same mischievous smile a lot, as he played pranks on his friends, and did all the things he was told he wasn’t supposed to do. 

After high school Grandpa spent a year at Gonzaga studying mechanical engineering, before he had to go to the army for the draft. He served in the army in Anchorage for two years, stationed there during the end of the Korean war. At the end of the two years, there was a manpower shortage in the Alaska fishing industry, which allowed him the opportunity to get early release from the military, to go into the fishing industry.

He went to work in a cannery in Pelican, Alaska where his dad worked as a machinist. So from 1956 to 1959, he worked at the cannery during summers while going and paying for Seattle University education studying Civil Engineering. During his final year at Seattle University he knew he wanted to go into the seminary and so he started taking more latin classes, and in the fall of 59’ he went to the seminary for about 5 years. St. Michaels (the seminary) was connected to Gonzaga University, where he studied philosophy and got a Bachelors of Arts. Then a Bachelors of Science for Math. He started a masters in Math, although he left about 20 credits short.

After St. Michaels and Gonzaga, he got a job in Sitka, Alaska as a night-shift breakwater engineer for about a year or so. When that ended, the same company then offered him a breakwater job over in Kingston, Washington - which is just a ferry ride away over Pudget Sound from Seattle. That is what he was doing when he met Grandma. 

My Grandpa was pretty happy as a bachelor at the time, but when he met my Grandma his life turned around pretty quick. He met her at his friend Terry’s wedding for the first time briefly, and then was properly introduced Thanksgiving of 1966. After two or three weeks my Grandpa called her, and they were engaged by Spring of 67’. As they say, the rest is history. 

He worked as an engineer and a cost estimator for most of his life, doing good solid work while raising his kids and providing for his family. During this primary period of his life, I can say with certainty even though I wasn’t there, that my Grandpa was learning and staying active the whole time. I know this based on the importance he placed on education not only as a whole, but as a constant process. 

The best way that I can show you he stayed learning, is that there is not a thing in his house that my Grandpa couldn’t tell you how it works. He could tell you how the heater or the fridge works, how to take it apart and build it back up again. He could rewire up the electricity in the whole house if he wanted to. He could tell you what each of the hundreds of tools in his garage do and when to use ‘em. For every DIY project I have seen him build, there are ten that I haven’t seen. Why pay someone else to fix something when you could learn it for yourself as you go about fixing it for free right? 

He saw the whole world change and go through cycles of fear and hope. He must have seen more change than I can even imagine. He watched the world go from mechanical tools and radios to televisions that got bigger and bigger; computers that continued getting smaller and smaller; and artificial intelligence. He lived through World War two, Korea, and Vietnam. He lived through a Cold War during a primary chunk of his life too. What impresses me most about my Grandpa is how even after everything he has lived through and witnessed, he remains optimistic about the future. He has watched the news, watching the slow destabilization of America or so it seems through the media, and yet he continues to speak with hope. He tells me that my generation can and will solve the issues of climate change. That I will use my mind to help develop technologies to help us, and to push humanity forward. He tells me to vote and to use my voice for good. In part, he inspired me to get on social media, to make my voice heard, and to improve my ideas. So I try to help people, starting with ideas. I try to communicate in a way that might help someone who is in a rough patch of their own. 

For all the time that I have known my Grandpa, he has always stressed the importance of keeping his mind sharp. I remember how every night whenever we stayed at the my grandparents house, he and Grandma would wind down in the office upstairs before bed. Grandpa would always play Sodoku and Solitaire, or he would be busy learning something new. Whatever he was doing, he always made sure that he would make use of his thinking skills, because even if your physical body is falling apart, you can work to keep your mind sharp and be of use to people with your words, ideas, and knowledge. There is a great deal worth of stories and skills that my Grandpa has learned that the world can benefit from. Even as his body fails him, his mind is still there, and his ability to think has never left him. 

When I think of my Grandpa there are a couple of ideas that will always spring to mind. The first is that you want to put yourself in the best position to do well. You want to stay safe on the road - don’t give someone else the chance to hurt you. Keep your wits about you - don’t let someone get the best of you or your bad judgment. Keep your cool in any situation - don’t let your emotions get the best of you. When looking to the future: make sure you are setting yourself up as best as possible. Get a good degree so that you can get a job doing something you like, earning enough that you can be comfortable. Gain experience so that you can learn to provide value. Continue learning before school, during school, and especially in the years after school so that you can not only stay relevant but remain forever in the process of leveling yourself up. Whatever you know in your head is your superpower. Your knowledge is untouchable by the outside world. No one can ever take it away from you, so gain as much as you can. Follow your curiosities and your passions and see where they lead. 

My Grandpa is and always will be a master builder in my eyes. He thinks about things in wonderful ways and can understand a lot more than most people when it comes to crafting. I was thinking about what my favorite memory with my Grandpa is when one experience stood out among the rest. This is the time that the two of us built a birdhouse together. I was probably about seven years old at the time, meaning my Grandpa wasn’t even 80 yet. To start we had to design it, with an open door, walls, and a two-piece roof. I nodded my head as my Grandpa explained everything we were going to do to put this together, but I was just happy to be doing something with my grandpa. He took me into his garage to get me some safety equipment (It wouldn’t be a project without proper safety first) and I giggled as I put on the way-to-big-for-me gloves and goggles. I was kind of funny-looking with that outfit on, but I definitely wasn’t splinter-prone! I don’t think my kid brain could process just how good of a memory we were building, but looking back it’s crystal clear that it was one I’ll never forget. After I got my safety instruction course, we went and started cutting our wood to spec, before we could get the screws and stick the whole thing together. Grandpa showed me how to aim the screws using the electric drill, and how to point it before I picked up the very heavy tool for my twig arms and gave it my best shot. Grandpa was so patient with me as I messed up a couple of times and got distracted and every time he would give me some words of encouragement to try again and give me something to focus on for the next attempt. It was a little thing really, but soon enough we had completed a birdhouse, and I had built something useful out of wood for the first time! I immediately went and showed it off to my grandma and my mom, who seemed very interested in the story of how we built it, although I am certain I exaggerated my role in this particular story. It wasn’t time to call it quits yet though, because we had one final touch left to do. It was time to hang it up and add some bird feed to the simple work of art. I’m not sure why this memory stands out to me so strongly, I think it may just be because I got to do all of the ‘Grandpa’ things, all at once. I was building with the master builder, I was learning from Captain Safety himself, and most importantly, I got to spend some quality one-on-one time with my Grandpa.

Even though my grandparents were 9000 kilometers away for most of my life, they still had a huge impact on me. There were still lessons they could teach me, skills that could be imparted, rules that could be learned. I learned how to play card games, how to say my pleases and thank yous. My grandparents weren’t always around, so they didn’t have to act as my parent, and they didn’t have to get me in trouble when I did something wrong.

 They could instead be a steady voice of encouragement in my abilities that no one else was in the position to be. They told me how smart I was, and how good at math I was, and they said it enough times that it engrained in me. I didn’t know how to take all of their compliments, but I tried, and little by little it made a difference. They gave me confidence. They gave me the room to allow me to think of myself as someone who was ‘good at math’, ‘good at reading’,  or ‘smart’. I probably would not have without them. Test scores only say so much, but acceptance and encouragement from people whose opinion matters to you? That makes the difference. They didn’t see all the ups and downs that went on during the school year. They didn’t see the trouble I had with friends, or the trouble I was having in Spanish class, or the way that the Swiss kids talked about me as I pretended not to understand. But when I was at their house in summer I got to share the highlight reel with them. I got to show them what I was doing, and what I was reading, and they were always so invested in hearing every detail. Then I could forget about everything that had happened throughout the year, and I could show off for my grandparents. I could work on new projects with them. I could bake cookies with my Grandma as she let me nibble on the dough. I could talk with my Grandpa and soak up every lesson he had to share with me. We would talk about the world, the future, and everything in between.

  One of the biggest themes and lessons that stuck with me over the years was the theme of trusting myself. Making sure that whatever is going on in life, I can look at the man in the mirror and listen to him. This was the same lesson my mom reiterated with the phrase ‘keep your own counsel’. No matter what else is going on, you cannot rely on the outside world to help you. As Grandpa says you have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. But you have to always remember that it is you doing the hoping and the preparing. No one else can do it for you. You will have help sometimes, and people you can turn to when you need a hand, but at the end of the day all you have is the man in the mirror. Ideas like this that my Grandpa held close are what will be remembered most once he’s gone. It’s ideas like this that got me interested in philosophy because strangely enough, you can learn how to talk to yourself. And you can do it in all sorts of wonderful ways.

I have been thinking about what it means to leave a legacy. What is a legacy? I think I have finally figured it out. A legacy is the footprint you leave behind. Think about the footprints left on the moon. For now, people remember who left those footprints, and the story behind them. But in a couple of generations, they may not remember the entire story of the footprint, and it will stand there all the same. The footprint doesn’t go away, the message doesn’t go away, even while the context around it may fade from memory. A person’s legacy is of course built off of your children and your grandchildren and your house and your work, but those things are all temporary. What is different, however, are the ideas that you leave behind. The seeds you plant in others’ minds’ through conversation and writing that get passed on generation after generation. The origin may be forgotten, but the good that the idea can do will ripple through time. My Grandpa had many ideas that will ripple through time, and I plan on doing my part in making sure that those ideas aren’t forgotten. I plan on embodying the ideas of keeping your own counsel, of educating yourself as much as possible, of hoping for the best and planning for the worst. Most of all though, I want to be kind like my Grandpa is. I want to spread positivity and love while lifting people up like my grandpa always did for me. I want to encourage others to be their best selves. To trust themselves and learn from their own mistakes. 

Happy 90th Birthday Grandpa, I hope you know how grateful I am for you in my life. 

I hope you know how proud I am of the amazing life you lived, and the wonderful person you are. 


I love you, 

Charlie :)