The meaning of [a] life

My Grandpa would have been 86 years old today. I have written about him before, but figured that his birthday is a good time to write about him some more.

Television melodrama often has one character passing away before another character can say “I love you,” or before they can tell the person how much they meant to them. I always found those TV-land situations supremely silly. While there are circumstances where this can happen, it can almost always be avoided. I was going to be sure to avoid it if I could. About a year and a half after my Grandma died, I wrote Grandpa a letter in which I told him in no uncertain terms exactly what he meant to me. The letter is dated November 12, 1997.

This is an awkward letter in that I should probably be saying this to you face-to-face, rather than through the mails. The phone would be no better because you always seem like you are in such a hurry to rush me off the phone, concerned that I’m spending my life savings on my five minute call to you, I’m sure. No, this is one of those letters that should not be a letter at all. Trouble is there’s 3000 miles between us and it makes regular visits cumbersome…

I’m sure you know that a lot of people are worried about you, especially with the holidays coming up. From what my spies have been telling me, you’ve been going through a tough time recently—and quite understandably so. I also know that you can be pretty macho and selfless, wanting no one to concern themselves with your troubles. I know this not only because it is try, but because I am the same way and I know exactly how you feel.

One thing that I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time is to show you the kind of effect you have on people. And since it wouldn’t be fair of me to speak for anyone else, I can only tell you the effect you’ve had on me and my life. This can become awkward, though, and how do you tell someone how much of an effect they have had on your life without making them feel awkward. Well, let me start with a simple example:

You may or may not have noticed that the protagonists of many of my stories bear a striking resemblance to you, both in their physical description, and their character. How would I describe those characters: Honest, intelligent, infinitely wise, open to new ideas, reflective, humorous, realistic, enthusiastic, good judgment, unshakable integrity. I could go on and on. There’s the “secretly wise” old man from my story “Faces in the Sidewalk Cracks” or the selfless act that “Granddad” commits at the end of “He Had the Weight of the World On His Shoulders, He’s Got the Whole World In His Hand.” As much as I’d like to be able to say that I made these characters up completely, that just wouldn’t be true. I got a lot of their best character traits from you…

I carry my money wrapped around my license and bankcards with a rubber band; why do I do this? Convenience? Breaking a rubber band every other day isn’t what I call convenience, but then I think that I do it for reasons that go deeper than convenience. It is said that emulation, is one of the highest compliments a person can be paid. Maybe, I don’t know. But I’m certain I do it because I saw my Grandpa doing it, and I thought it was cool. When people notice, and say how come you don’t carry you money around in a wallet like the rest of civilization. I smile and say: “I learned this from my Grandpa; it’s just a better way of doing things.”

So you can see why this really shouldn’t be a letter. You can see why I should be sitting there next to you, telling you these things face-to-face. I wish that I could. When I’m living my other life, and I look back on this one, I always wish that I could let at least one person who has had an enormous positive impact on my life know what they’ve done.

So, Grandpa, I think I can safely say that without having you as a role model, a source of wisdom, and humor, and good will, without your positive attitude and influence, I would most certainly not be where I am today. Here I am, 25 years old: I’m married to the most wonderful person in the whole wide world; I’ve got a dream job that I am excelling in; I’ve got a college degree; I’ve got a love for writing and reading books, and for learning in general. Without the lessons that I’ve learned from you, without the wisdom I’ve taken away from our conversations, I wouldn’t have any of this. Each of the successes I have achieved in my life are due in part to something I’ve learned from you. I can see that you don’t believe me and I could spend pages and pages trying to prove it. You’ll just have to take my word for it. This is not hyperbole; this is truth.

To summarize, then, the real point of this letter (which shouldn’t be a letter but should instead be a conversation between a Grandpa and his grandson) is to apply another lesson that I learned from you so well; it’s a lesson that takes only a little effort, and is made of two small words:

Thank you.

Grandpa’s response to this letter was pretty typical for him. According to my diary entry for November 20, 1997:

Grandpa called me at 7 PM this evening to tell me he had gotten my letter. He was rather emotonal on the phone. He told me I was a good “fiction” writer, but I assured him that everything I said in that letter was true. He said it was too praising, but I don’t think so. Anyway, it clearly made hm very, very happy–and that pleases me.

I have this great picture of Grandpa handing on the wall of my home office, just to the right of where I sit, so that in a sense, he is looking down on me. It’s my daily reminder of how lucky I was to have had such a special role model.

Grandpa’s favorite drink was Dewer’s scotch. His favorite way to request it was to ask for “two fingers”. Well, I don’t have any scotch in the house, but I’ve got this can of caffeine-free Coke, and so let me pour some into this shot glass, raise it in the air, say, “Happy Birthday, Grandpa,” and toss it back.



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