I am writing this in the wee hours of the morning, mentally preparing to attend the funeral of my grandfather later this afternoon. Most of Friday was on the plane, and most of Sunday will be on the plane home. I will move my eco-sabbath to another day and spend this day and the next in thought and prayer recalling a man I did not get enough of a chance to know, but for whom I have tremendous respect. My grandfather Harry, was the youngest of 7 children, who grew up in a one-room house in the middle of nowhere. Raised on a farm in Missouri he walked to a one room school mostly barefoot. His mother died when he was 11 years old and his father did not know how to care for him. His sister and brother-in-law lived in Detroit and she told him he could live with them if he could get there. So at the age of 11 he hitch-hiked from Piedmont, Missouri to Detroit, Michigan, making stops along the way to work in stores and restaurants sweeping floors and washing dishes. His brother-in-law arranged for him to attend the Henry Ford Trade School and he lived at the YMCA while taking night classes along with his day work and classes. In 1942 he was working with a friend in Akron, Ohio when they were hired as part of a group that would transform Tycoon Tackle Company in Miami, Florida into a manufacturing facility for the war effort. On the way to Florida they stopped at his friends family home in Indiana where his friends sister Roberta was graduating from high school. Roberta joined them and several others on the trip to Florida and stayed with relatives – 6 weeks later she and my Grandfather were married. This led to over 68 years of married life
Harry lived through some of the most intense times in our nations history. After graduating from the Henry Ford Trade School in 1939, he served in the Navy during World War II and saw more than his share of the war firsthand. I believe he could have used his engineering background to help with the ‘war effort’ at home, but chose to enter the service. As he told me in the past, “had we lost the war, the whole world would have been a terrible place.” His ship was present in Tokyo Bay at the signing of the peace treaty on September 2nd, 1945. My Grandfather’s research into our family helped me understand the long line of characters I am descended from, and the genes I pass to my children; entrepreneurs, rebels, engineers, self-sufficient homesteaders and Pastors. My grandmother strikes me as the quintessential, Midwestern pillar of strength. Her love and care for my grandfather during his last years as he suffered with Alzheimer’s was profound and set the highest bar in defining marital love and commitment. I am proud to be related to them both, and I will miss him dearly.
Today is the “giving back” or “pay it forward” day, and step 1 is to list all the ways we contribute to our community now. We do a lot, but we can do a lot more. Many years ago I worked professionally for a non-profit and learned the good and bad of the politics. I won’t say it scarred me, but it taught me some lessons I will never forget. Today we do a lot of volunteering, some through organized projects but mainly locally in our neighborhood and with our circle of friends. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get people to let you help them, and it’s probably obvious why; because people in their past have done it with strings attached, hands out, looking for something in return. Give with abandon – the giving is it’s own reward. Also don’t be so foolish as I have been to turn down help from others. Many people are looking for a safe place to give, and why not have it be to you, if even for that brief instant you are the one in need. It can be very humbling and level setting to be involved in people’s lives this way instead of my normal course to just hang with people that have identical interests, and I’m so thankful I overcame some of my ‘junk’ that prevented me from living this way. I still have junk in this category to recycle but I’m working on it. I have brilliant neighbors who have special skills based on their backgrounds and they’ve all saved me countless dollars and hours providing simple help when I was stone cold stuck on something. It’s such a win to honor people’s differences.
We have had two opportunities in our current neighborhood to get more involved with our neighbors; the genesis of both was mini-crime sprees of petty theft attempts and vandalism. This got the people out of their houses and talking to each other. We’ve had one elderly neighbor who was greatly offended that we tried to help her with something, because “I can still do things myself young man,” but this has easily worked itself out and now we are allowed to help. In return I am regularly surprised and blessed when she brings over something she cooked just for us, or a newspaper article she thoughtfully plucked from the paper because it relates to something going on in our lives. Another great way to get to know your neighbors is to feed them, or do a potluck dinner. I have two neighbors with chickens who are quite happy to give us fresh, organic eggs. I give them hot peppers and other delicacies from the garden. I’d like to live like that in more ways.
I am happy with how we have learned to Pay it Forward, but I acknowledge the lifetime opportunity I have to grow in this challenge. Today I remember my grandparents, who showed with their own lives what was truly important on so many occasions.
I hope I can live in a way that honors their lives and continues their legacy.