When Trish McFarlane over at HR Ringleader agreed to host the upcoming Carnival of HR on November 24th, she asked contributors to share stories of events that were turning points in one’s life. While quite personal, and not particularly HR related, it’s an event that certainly changed my life.
I was a Grandpa’s Girl. As the only grandchild of an only child (my mother), I was the apple of my Grandpa’s eye. I was loved and cared for; not spoiled by any stretch of the imagination, but from a very young age, I was provided with warmth, attention, and lots of hugs, kisses and praise. Not false-praise (“everyone gets a trophy!”), but the sort that can instill confidence in a child.
Grandpa thought I could hang the stars and the moon. In 3rd grade when I wanted to be a lawyer (hello Perry Mason!) he had me present a school paper to him as if I were in the courtroom. He played “the cross-examining” attorney and wow – was he tough! But we ended up collapsing in giggles, not tears.
He never laughed when I wanted to be a professional musician. Or an author. Or, God help me, when I wanted to marry a pony.
In middle school when I was appropriately awkward and gawky and generally mad at the world, Grandpa could dispel the gloom. I may not have wanted to speak to my parents at age 13, but I still went to spend the weekend with my grandparents every chance I got. Grandpa and I would play cards and look at old family photos and tell the same old silly jokes to each other over and over and over.
Will, my Grandpa, was born in 1910, and was just slightly older than his brother Oliver. Their father Phillip, my great-grandfather, died in 1913, when Grandpa was just 3 years old. When their mother Ella found herself with two toddlers to raise and support, she opened a market. A corner market where, as he grew up, Will learned to tend to the customers and eventually apprentice to the butcher, until he himself took over the business. He set his path in life – opening and relocating several corner markets over the years. He sold the last one before I was born, and in his ‘retirement” worked for a small grocery store as their head butcher. He used to love to take me to the store with him; I got to put on a butcher’s apron and a white paper hat and stand behind the counter. I watched Grandpa cut the meat and wrap up the fresh chops or steaks in their white butcher paper. I was just entering grade school, but I vividly recall helping him weigh the packages and mark them with the red wax pencil.
But one summer day, my world changed. A call came as my parents and I were at a neighbor’s wedding. We rushed home to find that Grandpa was no longer with us. I was 14. And I was devastated.
One of the last times I saw my Grandpa was when he and Grandma made a weekend visit to our house. Being a sullen and moody teenager, no doubt in the midst of some imagined drama, I refused to talk to anyone. I sighed. I sulked. I went downstairs to the basement rec room to pout and BE ALONE. Gee – why couldn’t my family understand I wanted to be left alone? And as I sat there in the gloom and the dark, the light suddenly came on. Grandpa had come down to check on me. He even brought an apple as a peace offering, which, against my desire to be dark and sad and moody, made me laugh – because Grandpa knew I couldn’t stand apples. And then he talked.
He told me he knew I was mad at my Mother, but she loved me. He told me he was sorry I thought my Dad criticized me, but that my Dad was only trying to help. He reminded me about all the good things I had in my life. And then in one last attempt to break through my teenage melodramatic angst, he told me the “Center Street bus joke.” (a classic in the family – trust me). And I left the basement and went upstairs with Grandpa to rejoin the family. Teenage mood temporarily lifted.
The loss of my Grandpa was very rough. He was such an integral part of my life that all these years later I still find myself thinking “oh, Grandpa would like that” or “I wish he could see this.” He gave me love and support and believed in me no matter how silly or ridiculous I was. He was firm and had rules, but he stood up for me. And he never doubted that I could do anything to which I directed my energy.
I recall that last conversation in the basement often; I can picture him sitting in the chair next to me holding that apple. Perhaps it was that conversation – that last interaction – that was the defining moment; and not his death. For that conversation was a true representation of my Grandpa – and the legacy he left for me.
And one thing I’m pretty certain of – he would probably be relieved to know I didn’t marry a pony.