A tribute to my grandfather – living life “lucky”
My grandfather passed away this morning, at the age of 92. Today has been a tough day for me– I miss my grandfather even more than I thought I would. It is especially tough knowing how difficult this is for my dad- it breaks my heart to see him this sad.
At the same time I find myself being thankful for many things. My grandfather lived a very long, and fruitful life, and was quite healthy right up to the day he died. He was out at a restaurant with my parents just 3 days ago, joking and having fun. Still living life. He died today in his home, and both of his kids were with him. I hope when I go, I can say the same.
But, this post is about living life, and the example my grandfather set. Whenever I spoke with my grandfather, from the time I was very young, until very recently on the phone, he would always say “I’m doing great! I’m so lucky!” Over the past few years, his short term memory had been fading, so I would get to hear those words repeated several times in a conversation, but I never tired of them. He would say, “Oh, I’m getting old, forgetful, not what I used to be, but I’m doing great, lucky to be alive and healthy!” He always had a joke, or a lighthearted comment, many of the self deprecating sort, and always getting back to being lucky. Growing up it was the same. He was always cheerful, loved to take us swimming, fishing, camping, or just hanging out. And, we always heard how lucky we were.
He was lucky. His father emigrated from Norway to the US (and changed his name, or had it changed by accident when he arrived). He had plenty of stories of hard work to pay for college. He was on the swim team (and had the most efficient swim strokes I have seen anywhere). He loved to tell stories about winning wrestling matches against kids twice his size because he was quicker, more determined, and maybe a bit more strategic. He was a pilot in the Pacific theater during WWII, and used to love to show me the collection of old WWII guns he amassed from his travels in the war (I never did ask him how he brought them all home). He never told me about the tough parts of the war, but always focused on how lucky he was to fly, to be with the brave friends, and to survive.
After the war, my grandfather was an executive at a couple of construction firms in Duluth, Minnesota. We would drive around the city and he loved to point out all the different buildings he had helped build, and was immensely proud of what he contributed to the community. ”We built that hospital” or “We won that project because we did that special design”, or “we worked extra hard on that one, and barely won it.” Every drive had a story. He was the guy who did the final estimates, and then supervised projects. He could do math in his head that most had trouble doing with calculators, and always pointed out the common sense angles that he used to win. He won most of the projects he bid, and he would usually say it was a combination of “luck and a bit of hard work.” He built his own house, and loved to show me the specifics, the tricky parts, and the things that others wouldn’t notice. Always paying attention to the details, and always working just a bit harder.
As a father, he loved his kids more than anything, even though I know he worked more than he would have liked. From all of my memories of him, and I have many amazing memories over the years, the one I recall most strongly was two summers ago. My family went to visit Minnesota, and he met Melina and Nadia for the first time. He thought the world of the girls– I don’t think there was anything in the world that could have made him happier than spending time with them. He kept repeating, “Jon, you are so lucky. Cherish every minute with these girls.” And, given his short term memory lapses, he repeated it enough that it is my strongest memory of him. There are times now I wonder if the short term memory failure was just a hoax so he could get his point across!
I believe that luck is not just about chance, but is also about being ready and able to take advantage of opportunities. My grandfather is a case and point. He always spoke about “luck”, but he helped make his luck, and I don’t ever recall a time when he was not “doing great!” Always quick with a joke, a word of encouragement, and full of love for the world, Grandpa Ray was always grateful, and in a word, he lived life “lucky.”
Thank you Grandpa Ray. I hope to live life “lucky” like you, and we all miss you very much!