Everybody has a grandpa, but there’s no one like my Grandpa Jack.
My grandpa never won a Nobel Prize or wrote a novel, but he taught me how to paddle a canoe and how to row a boat. Grandpa showed me how to dig up the big nightcrawlers in the wet leaves at the cottage, how to get the worm on the hook and the hook on the line. He taught me how to cast it on the mucky side of the dock where the fish were and how to move the worm to fool the fish. I still remember the first bluegill I ever caught; I was with Grandpa at the cottage. And I remember perfectly the lures I proudly purchased after that trip; they were big and purple, and I was sure I’d catch a thousand bluegills with them. Of course, no bluegill on the planet would’ve been able to get his mouth around them, so I went right back to the nightcrawlers under the leaves. My giant lures weren’t a match for Grandpa’s wisdom.
My grandpa never went to the moon or discovered a cure to an incurable disease, but my grandpa didn’t need to do any of that because, as a child, I knew my grandpa could do anything. He could fix an outlet, build a wall, inflate a basketball, change the oil, repair a bike tire, fix a headlight, build a house, and he could even grill a turkey. Grandpa taught me a man can do anything with his own hands, and so he ought to go right ahead and do it. There was no sense waiting around for someone else to do the job when God had given you all you needed to get it done yourself. That’s what Grandpa taught me.
My grandpa seemed to know life was about more than your job or your money, your accomplishments or your titles. Whether it was the man at the gas station whom he called by his first name or the grandson he took to the park to teach him how to fly a kite or the work he put into fixing up Mom’s house, Grandpa seemed to think there was something to life that I didn’t quite understand as a kid and am only now starting to comprehend, that maybe it was about people. That lesson never fell on deaf ears when Grandpa and I snuck away to Mr. Donut to enjoy the simple pleasure of a triple chocolate donut with chocolate milk. Maybe it was no more than a donut to the guy behind the counter, but to me, it was the world. Grandpa taught me there’s real value in a person, and twenty-five minutes together at a donut shop can last a lifetime.
My grandpa taught me there are some small things that really aren’t so small after all, things like refusing to let another cover the bill. Stubbornness in that way says a lot to a boy about generosity and what it means to be a man. And then there was the time Grandpa drove Mom’s car back from the shop. Before we got home, he turned to me and said, “If you ever use someone else’s car, always return it with a full tank of gas.” I’ve only failed to keep that standard once in my life, and I still remember wondering at the time, “Is Grandpa gonna find out?” Because when Grandpa said to do it, you just assumed that was the way it should be done. I don’t know, maybe every grandson thinks that way about his grandpa. Or maybe my Grandpa is different.
My grandpa never got his name in the newspapers for making any great discoveries, but to a grandson, he was the smartest man alive. Maybe it was because he was a math teacher (a fact emblazoned in my memory when late one night he brought us into the high school and showed us all the wind-up toys in his office). Maybe it was for his ability to make a coin appear behind my ear or for how he could make the pelican puppet come alive (two talents I have come to find quite useful myself). Maybe it was the five-minute mysteries he used to tell us. Whether it was the man found in the park surrounded by bikes or the dozens in the cabin in the mountains or the blind midget from the circus, we were always amazed by Grandpa’s wit. I know now that Grandpa didn’t invent all these mysteries, but I don’t tell that to the students in my classes. They, like I when I was younger, think my grandpa is the smartest man in the world to come up with such treasures.
My grandpa never preached a sermon as far as I know, but he modeled godly character with his life, and that kind of preaching beats a good portion of sermons I’ve heard. Grandpa taught me the value of things like faithfulness, integrity, and honesty, things too cheap these days that once would cost a fortune or a lifetime. He showed me a man is only as good as his word, and if you lost that, then you didn’t have much of anything at all left. I remember and still feel ashamed of the day Grandpa took us to Bagley Rapids and gave us a lesson in this. We had run ahead of Grandpa, and as soon as we knew he couldn’t see us anymore, we yelled as loud as our small lungs could yell: “Help us, Grandpa!” Much to our surprise, he didn’t think our joke was very funny. His correction quickly wiped away our smiles and left an impression that has stuck to this day. If a man’s word can’t be trusted, after all, what can you trust about him?
My grandpa’s name isn’t on a tower or a stadium like some grandpas’ names. Nor does he have an invention to be remembered by like others. There is no country he founded, no movie he directed, no business that carries his name on into the future. No, rather, my grandpa left his name in each of us—his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—and this legacy won’t disappear with the changing stock market, wars, and fads of our world. Grandpa Jack will be remembered—and, even more, the life he lived will be remembered—by a memorial far more eternal: the human spirit.
Until that day when I stand before Jesus and so also get to see my grandpa again, I will miss this man who showed me so well what it meant to be faithful, generous, hard-working, honest, and loyal. And I will always be grateful for the model he gave me of what it means to be a man.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
To Grandpa Jack
March 31, 1929 to May 4, 2013
(Click here for the official obituary.)