My grandpa passed away a week before Thanksgiving. I’m really fortunate because, at 26, this is the first major family death I’ve ever experienced. I’ve lost friends to accidents and suicide, and a countless number of distant aunts, uncles, and cousins to a variety of ailments, mostly age-induced. But Grandpa’s memorial service found me in the dreaded front row, and although that’s where I usually choose to sit during a lecture or meeting, this first-pew seat was the last place I wanted to be.
Although technically he’s my grandpa, he would’ve stepped into that role for you, too, if you wanted. He may have saved his heartiest hugs for his bride of 57 years, or his kids or grandchildren, but there certainly was enough room in that embrace for others. A few years ago, while the rest of my family grumbled about me bringing along a friend who couldn’t get home for the holidays, my grandpa went out of his way to make my friend feel welcome and part of our crew.
When I was little, Grandpa would ask me if I wanted to “go farming,” and we’d go out to the backyard and he’d help me push my tiny fingers into the dirt to plant tomato seeds and squash. Gramps taught me about how plants grow, and about how they need just the right blend of sunshine and water. After a little bit of work, he’d hold up the garden hose and we’d drink its sun-warmed water. “This is really living, buddy,” he’d tell me at some point. “Grandpa sure does love you.”
During the few hours he wasn’t on the clock for L.A. County’s Mechanical Department, Gramps usually was helping a friend or family member with some project, whether it was moving or fixing a car or laying tile. There wasn’t a problem my grandpa couldn’t fix, and everyone who met him knew that should you have a construction question or if you just needed a shortcut to get through downtown L.A.’s busy streets, he was your guy. Gramps always had the answers.
Grandpa was equal parts humble and sincere, a winning combination in the workplace and in relationships. But if you think those characteristics don’t mesh well with a good sense of humor, you’d be sorely mistaken. Every time we went out to dinner, Gramps would ask some unsuspecting waitress, with a completely serious face, “Do you take a bad check?” Most would stare back blankly, unsure how to answer this earnest-looking man, and many times, one of us at the table would have to chime in to let her know that he was just kidding, and no, you don’t need to ask your manager. Grandpa never met a stranger, and there wasn’t a person he couldn’t win over with his jokes or his banter. Even the people he interacted with in serious or mundane situations, like doctors or electricians or gardeners, knew of his humor, his kindness, his generosity.
My grandpa taught me the importance of family and of making an effort to stay connected to the people we care about. He taught me the value of keeping current on news events and of being aware-and wary-of our elected officials. While he became more conservative, I grew more liberal, and although we had our fair share of political bouts, our camaraderie throughout helped me learn that dialogue and discussion are far more valuable than making someone agree with my perspective. He taught me that a good work ethic will take you far in life, as will an education, a kind word, and a willingness to go the extra mile. Sometimes I like to think my own good sense has made me a diligent employee, but the reality is that it was my grandpa’s wise words and his example that helped me learn what it means to be a good worker and a good friend.
These are strange days with Grandpa more than a phone call away. As I muddle through life without him, I’ve been thinking about how he would conclude our dinnertime prayers. He’d raise his glass, and with his eyes full of gratitude, he would say, “And thanks be to God for all of our blessings.” Gramps is one of those blessings.