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Lessons Learned from My Grandfathers


15Jun 2008

On this Father’s Day, I thought I would reflect some on the lessons I learned from my grandfathers.

My Grandpa White was the only child in his family and his father died when my grandpa was 16 years old. As a result, he became in charge of the small family farm and the “man of the house” at that young age. I heard stories growing up how my grandfather was a creative problem-solver. For example, he set up a water supply system from the spring on the farm to a storage tank in the farmhouse. He also was frugal, but figured out how to get what the family needed with the limited money they had — he would buy slightly damaged apples at the general store (and cut out the bad spots) for a significant discount.

My Grandpa White lived closed by our home and I spent a fair amount of time with him while growing up (I was the youngest grandchild, however, and he died when I was in high school). Some of things I remember about him and the lessons I learned from observing him:

  • Make do with what you have. My grandfather, like most who lived through the Depression, saved all kinds of things (but not obsessively so) — nuts, bolts, pieces of wire, scraps of wood — which he then would creatively use to fix or make needed items. The related lesson was to keep using what you have (by maintaining and fixing it) in contrast to buying a new one.
  • Enjoy the simple things of life. I have vivid memories of my grandpa smiling and enjoying a ripe piece of watermelon on a Saturday evening in the backyard, or shaking his head in pleasure, saying, “Mmmm, mmm” when eating homemade vanilla ice cream.
  • Do the job right. My grandfather had a reputation of building things to last. I remember some wooden benches he built to use at a picnic bench at our family’s lake cabin — and he used heavy pressure treated rough-sawn 2×12’s with mammoth 16d galvinized nails. They were so heavy, you let somebody else move them!
  • Do what is right and don’t complain when others don’t. My grandfather had the reputation in our community of quietly doing the right thing, serving others, and not drawing attention to himself. Similarly, there were a number of external circumstances which occurred in his life that created significant challenges for his family — like the government buying the family farm during WWII for far less than it was worth (the farm was next to a new ammunition plant). But I never heard him complain or tell stories with a tone of bitterness.

My Grandfather Tripkos (my mom’s father; his father immigrated from Czechoslovakia in the late 1800’s) was also a farmer, in the “bottom lands” next to the Kansas River. Although I was not as close my Grandpa Trikpos, he also taught me life lessons through his example:

  • Enjoy life. My Grandpa had an infectious laugh. He was smiling constantly. He was always telling or making jokes. And he loved to laugh at others’ jokes. He was just plain fun to be around.
  • Make time for family. My family lived 20 minutes from most of the Tripkos side of the family (grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins). But we frequently visited them (Saturday evenings, Sunday afternoons) and my Grandpa was in our home often, usually for meals. He often drove down for Sunday meals and was always there for major holidays. And I specifically remember pitching in a Little League All-Star game with grandpa there in the stands.

None of the lessons mentioned above are earth shaking — sort of like my grandfathers. They were solid men, not spectacular. They were faithful husbands and fathers for decades. They worked hard, provided for their families in spite of extraordinary life challenges (my Grandpa Tripkos’ farm and home were flooded during a major flood in 1951 — the family lost the home). But if I can live, and help my children live, with these lessons in our lives, that would be pretty good — solid, acceptable, just like the lessons themselves.

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