“Hey Gramps, how are you?”
“Any better babe, and I couldn’t stand it.”
Before sitting down to write I called my grandpa to hear his voice, to listen to his tone, to feel like I was young again sitting in his lap, listening to the hits of the 1940’s on a static radio. Summer hail storms pounding on the roof, sipping sweet lemonade, is where my grandpa shared his life stories. Some were funny, some serious, about life, determination and just being a badass.
You’re never too old to set goals.
My grandpa’s father died in his 50’s, before being able to experience the retirement he wishfully envisioned and dutifully saved for. Determined to avoid this unfortunate circumstance, my grandpa retired at 58 after a dedicated career in the telephone industry. Now 93, my grandpa has been retired for 35 years, a unicorn amount of years in today’s workaholic world. However, a monotonous life of idleness was not on my grandpa’s retirement agenda.
Snorkel in tow, goggles sucked to his face and flashing $300 Speedo swim bottoms, my grandpa swam like a fish. Always seeking a competitive edge, he persuaded my grandma to buy him top-of-the line swim trunks as they promised to make him faster during his morning laps. Completing his final 5k at 87, he participated to claim the trophy each year for his age bracket. Albeit the fact he was often the sole competitor in his age group.
While his physical feats are notably impressive, his competitive and goal setting mindset is what continually motivates me today. My grandpa set an annual goal to swim a mile on his birthday each year, swimming his final birthday mile at the ripe age of 92. Short term goals were always realized as he set out to fix the plumbing by March and the deck by May. Looking ahead, he set goals to be present at all major family milestones. My grandpa was 86 years old when I entered high school. Consciously choosing to ignore statistics, my grandpa concluded he would be there to watch his youngest grandchild of six walk across the stage at her high school graduation. Looking out at the bleachers as I received my diploma, his smile radiated from the acknowledgement of both our accomplishments.
The takeaway? Strive to always progress and stay in motion. Whether it be professional, personal, or desire-driven, setting goals force one to constantly evolve and grow.
There is always time to make someone smile.
“I sure hope the rain keeps up.”
“So it doesn’t come down.”
“Is that your face or did your pants fall down?”
If I have one regret from my childhood, it’s not recording every witticism that spewed unfiltered from my grandpa’s mouth. Butte, America born and bred, his jokes were rooted in the rough-and-tumble yet celebrated era of the small mining town in the 1940s. His clever, and sometimes inappropriate sayings left family, friends, and strangers clutching their gut with uncontrollable laughter. While writing his jokes is an injustice to their effect, his timely delivery made for fits of giggles, regardless of repetition.
Most everyone can think of someone who is immediately liked, can talk to anyone, and befriends everyone who breathes the same air. For me, that’s my grandpa. He always set aside time to get to know someone, share stories, and swap jokes. In our day to day routines it’s too easy to be buried in our phones, focused only on getting from A to B, uninterested in those around us. Before my grandpa left a restaurant, airplane, or any other public space, he knew most everyone in the room. He knew where they were from and who their parents were. My grandpa’s infectious personality is one I always admired and it is the reason he remains unforgettable to so many.
Food for thought: How much better would our days be if we set aside time to simply make someone smile every day?
Show your swagger.
“I’m the finest guy that ever put on a pair of shoes.”
The signature phrase of his 92nd birthday, my grandpa is a man with unlimited confidence, using his high self-esteem and healthy ego to wow others, show humor, and exercise his charm. On a short visit to the ER last year, he falsely convinced the nurses he rostered for the Chicago Cubs back in the day. Now, this isn’t entirely untrue. In his twenty-year-old prime, he played for the Cubs Farm League (Minor League) based out of San Francisco. At a pay of $113 a month, not including room and board, my grandpa left the Farm League after a short time unable to make due on his measly salary. Sharing his fabricated story with his nurses, the nurses doted heavily on him, captivated by his athletic history. Without a doubt in my mind, my grandpa received the best medical care in the ER that day.
His contagious confidence has appeared on multiple occasions, with family events being no exception. At the time, my grandparents had been married for 67 years. In front of all 200 wedding guests, the DJ asked for the key to a long-lasting marriage to which my grandpa simply responded, “She knew she had a winner.” Never ashamed of his best features, my grandpa boasts about his “pretty feet”, a compliment given by a war nurse decades ago. His baldness is even a source of confidence for him, constantly reiterating, “God made a lot of beautiful heads. The rest he covered with hair.” To his credit, my grandpa does have some good-looking feet and has always rocked a naked head. Lesson to take away? Find your source of swagger, whether it be baldness or pretty feet and work it.
“Getting old ain’t for sissies.”
One of my grandpa’s all-time favorite quotes, his youthfulness always seemed to make this quote irrelevant; but today, his hands hurt. He can’t see well. Each time he gets up from his chair, he wobbles like he is going to fall, and he occasionally does. His personality has stiffened with his joints and his laughter is harder to find, buried underneath self-induced guilt of being no longer able to take care of his lawn, race me in the backyard, or swim a mile. Some of this piece is written in the past tense, as age has hardened him and a lack of physical freedom has contained his once free-flowing spirit. But, no matter what age has done to my grandpa, he remains my hero, my unshakable source of faith and my continual motivation to succeed.
At the end of our phone call, like he does every time, my grandpa hangs up with, “I love you sweetheart, more than you’ll ever know.”
Back at ya, Gramps.