Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lessons from my Grandpa

When I was young, probably about eight or nine years old, I was spending the weekend with my grandparents on the farm. This particular weekend was filled with the classic summer storms - lots of thunder, lightning and rain all weekend long. One afternoon, the phone rang as my grandfather received a call from the neighbor woman. I remember her well; she was a sweet, elderly woman with a lot of cats. I remember this because my grandfather did not particularly like those cats and complained about them often.

Nonetheless, the call was an urgent request from this woman to ask my grandfathers help. One of her cats had gone up a tree as the storm neared and now she couldn’t get it back down. She wanted my grandfather to go out in the middle of the thunder, lightning, and rain to rescue a cat that I knew he didn’t like. Without hesitation he said, “I’ll be right over.” As he started to throw on a rain parka and his hat I asked why he was going to bother rescuing that cat. My grandfather sat down and said, “I gave that woman’s son my word that I would look out for her.” “So,” I replied, with very little sympathy. My grandfather was patient with us grandkids, but he was very firm in his message on this day, he said, “Son, your word is everything. If people can’t trust your word, they can’t trust you. If they can’t trust you, then you ain’t much of a neighbor.” He stood up and walked out into that storm. This was a “teaching moment”, a moment that my grandfather could teach me about a man’s character, your word as your bond, and what a true neighbor looked like – all in only a few sentences and one humble act.

I remember watching from the window as my grandfather climbed that ladder to the branch where the cat was perched and rescued him from the blowing storm. It was clear the neighbor woman was thankful as the wrapped the cat in a towel and hugged my grandfather. My grandfather came back into the house soaked from head to toe. I remember my grandmother giving him a big kiss on the cheek as a “thank you.” I don’t remember ever talking about that situation with my grandfather again. In fact, I don’t remember talking to anyone in my family about what my grandfather had done. But the vision of my grandfather on that ladder in the middle of that storm is etched into my memory and the lesson he taught is there as well. My grandfather did not often teach with words, he taught with actions. He taught by the way he lived his life. He was honest, loving, humble, hard-working, honorable, and a man of his word. I got that message loud and clear on that rainy day and I have wanted to be just like him ever since.

The messages we send our children are often not with the words we say, but with the actions we take. Be conscious of this fact and you will be able to take advantage of the “teaching moments” we so often experience in life and have a lasting effect on our children.

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