Most anyone who gets to know me for more than a couple of days hears about my grandpa. The conversation usually starts when they ask me why it is that I am the way I am.
As with all of us, there are many reasons, but my explanation always starts with one of my fondest memories: Grandpa would pick me up in the middle of the day when I was released from kindergarten and take me home for lunch. We’d sit down to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and talk — usually about Ronald Reagan.
That political discussion we started 27 years ago never ended.
I feel that I was the luckiest — or most blessed — of us grandkids because during those formative years I was able to spend so much time with him. The impact he had on my life was profound. When I was a child, my grandpa was my best friend.
Even after we no longer lived under the same roof, I was at my grandparents’ much of time — during the summers, Christmas and Easter breaks and many times in between. In addition to making me a Republican, during that time grandpa taught me many things.
Grandpa had an amazing interest in the world. He religiously watched the local news, cable news, “Nightline” — all of it. His mornings started with bitter coffee and no less than two newspapers, a habit I picked up. It was a priority for him to be informed. His curiosity became mine.
When I went into journalism, it was always comforting to know that there was at least one person out there doing his best to keep the news business solvent.
In those early years, he and grandma spent a lot of time driving me around town — to swimming lessons, tennis lessons, vacation Bible school, museums, Pastor Ben’s house to play with Bart, historical sites, movie sets. During the many vacations we took together to visit family, stops were added along the way, sometimes taking us far beyond the quickest route. We went to the Grand Canyon, the Denver Mint, Mt. Rushmore — even the birthplace of Herbert Hoover.
But he wanted me to be well-rounded.
That’s probably why, when I was young, he taught me how to tie a perfect Windsor knot, mow a lawn and make friends at a hotel bar. He even once tried to teach me how to hit a baseball, but grandma put an end to that experiment when a stray pitch hit me in the head.
Those things will always be with me. Whenever I get into a political debate or write an editorial, my grandpa is there. Whenever I put on a tie, eat a grilled cheese sandwich or travel to a place I’ve never been, he will be there with me.
The biggest thing I hope to have learned from my grandpa is to be a man of love. As a family we’ve talked about how much he enjoyed to so-called “little things” in life — a cold beer with mixed nuts, a baseball game, a crackling fire, mountain views, ’57 Chevies and looking to see if there’s “water in that river.” It didn’t matter which river it was, just that there was water in it. If you said something that was a lyric of song he knew, he would start singing it. Not always on key, but he would sing it.
Those “little things” gave him so much pleasure because he truly loved life, and that was contagious. He was the embodiment of joy. The only times I saw him get angry were when the St. Louis Cardinals lost a playoff game or the Iowa Hawkeyes missed a touchdown. I think the only people he hated were the ones who put on a Kansas City Royals uniform.
Family was so important to grandpa. He loved and felt an eternal connection to his parents and sisters. He would often recite a prayer at dinner he learned from his grandparents in their native Swedish tongue, and ask us to “pass the smör.”
And I know from the stories I’ve been told and from experience that there wasn’t anything Grandpa wouldn’t do to support each of us.
He loved and accepted the people he met. From his wonderful life-long friends to any of our friends. He didn’t get caught up in the silly dramas that encompass so many people’s lives — he simply enjoyed being around people, which made people enjoy being around him. One of my friends who met him briefly 8 years ago still asks about grandpa whenever we talk.
He loved this church. Grandpa’s faith was of the sort that Jesus said we should all approach God: As a child. He was curious, and excited to be here. Hearing his favorite hymns put a smile on his face all day.
When we would come together, much of our conversation that afternoon would be about Ben’s sermon. Though I think he enjoyed the time after the service, in the Common Room with all of you just as much — if not more.
But for all that grandpa taught me, through the tremendous example he set for us and his love for life and family, he wasn’t acting alone. More than anything, he loved you grandma. You two truly were one entity.
He was always in love with you. Just last Christmas, while we were looking at old slides, whenever a picture of grandma popped up, grandpa jumped in his seat and said, “Yowza!”
Everything he did for us he did with you. We have such a wonderful family, and that’s a testament not only to grandpa, but to the life you shared together. I can only hope to someday find love like that.
And I can only hope to live up the example of love that grandpa set for me.