Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Wealth of Wisdom Not Found in Words.

Originally I hadn't intended to share this in this way. However, after it was read at the funeral for my Grandfather it has occurred to me that I owed it to him to share it with those who weren't able to attend. As such, I offer it here in this format for anyone so interested:

The Wealth of Wisdom Not Found in Words.

If you will kindly bear with me, I’ve never been very skilled at speaking – I’m used to being the one writing the words instead of the one speaking them.

Fred Howard is my Grandfather. Over the course of his life he has worn many different hats; he has been a carpenter, a soldier, a father, a husband and a friend. But at the very core of his being he is best described – in my mind – as a noble man. To those who knew him, I think you can agree with me that he would never ask for such praise or speak as highly of himself. My Grandfather was a man of humility, of honor and honesty.

There is a phrase he once told me as a child that I have never forgotten. In so many ways, you could say it was the closest thing to his personal motto and trademark as anything ever could be. What he said was this; “If a job is worth doing, then it is worth doing right the first time.” It was more than just how he approached every task, be it crafting a cabinet to building a box or even designing a dresser. It is how he lived his life. It is evident in how he lived every day. So I can say with absolute certainty that he can hold his head high, because as I look back I have no doubt that he did the job right as we all should endeavor to.

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I relished any chance to see something he was working on, to ride with him on any errand and to learn anything he could tell me about. For years I longed for the day when I would be big enough to learn everything he knew about working with wood and how to build things.

Sadly, health and circumstances prevented anything of the sort from ever being possible. However, thanks to my Grandfather’s influence there were other more valuable lessons that he imparted to me. He did so without ever having to truly lecture or make speeches. He did so by being an example of discipline, dedication and decency. Thanks to my Grandfather I saw a consistent image of what a man should always strive to be. He was humble, honest and honorable; all the things that make good men great.

I know that in his passing many will lament his absence; they will remember him fondly and talk warmly of him. But what we should all take the time to realize is that he will never truly be gone. He lives on in each of us, whether we realize it or not. Every time my little brother lifts a hammer to nail two boards together; it is with my Grandfather’s example behind him. When my Mother cares for someone who needs a hand she shows the same compassion and preservation of dignity that her Father has shown her. Anytime I encourage my own children to uphold their word and responsibilities I am passing on the same wisdom my Grandfather provided me.

My Grandfather wasn’t the most educated of men; he wasn’t rich or famous in most uses of the word. What he was, was a decent, honest and hard working man. He took care of his church, and led the singing there – not because he wanted to stand in the limelight or feel special – but because it was a job that needed doing and he could. To my knowledge, he never has been awarded any honors or acclaim. Even if he had been I doubt he would have ever made a fuss about the matter or wanted anyone else to. But if any man ever deserved to have their life honored and remembered it is my Grandfather. His legacy is a living one; of being an example others should strive to emulate.

In parting I would like to end with the words I wrote as a dedication from a story that was in part inspired by my memories of my Grandfather;

Dedicated to my beloved Grandfather; a more honest, honorable and simply strong character of a man I have never known. May we all be blessed to have such a handy hammer in our lives to help build us into a better man or woman.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Litany of Life Lessons.

A Litany of Life Lessons.

Throughout the course of our lives we are granted any number of precious moments with which to treasure. Frozen little jewels that, much like seeds, imbed in us the cornerstones that will inevitably shape the foundation of what we will become. They can be as simple and innocuous as a phrase or as involved as a deep heartfelt discussion. Whatever form they take, we owe it to ourselves and those who made such an impact on us to reflect on them from time to time.

For me, I try to do so as often as I can. But try as you might there are those situations that prompt you to review the scope of influence that some important people have wielded on your life.

Right now, I find myself deep in thought about the effect my Grandfather has had over my life – and, by extension my own Mother as well. Perhaps it is only fitting with the impending holiday approaching. Truth be told; his rapidly declining health keeps my mind trained on the topic of his life.

For as long as I can recall my Grandfather has been an idealized hero to my eyes. In reality I am well aware that he is merely mortal and just as fallible as anyone else. However, even that logic seems faulty to me as an adult though. By my own reckoning he is the closest thing to everything a saint, a knight, even a kingly man should be.

I never was afforded the luxury of getting to know my Father’s father. Unfortunately, he passed away just shy of a year before I was born. That said the only knowledge I have of the man is from little anecdotes and insight others have offered me. In sharp contrast my Mother’s father was the only grandfather I have ever known.

As a young man I spent many weekends and holidays spending time at my Grandfather’s house. Around the age of 7 my family moved out of the city limits and into the county to put us just over 2 miles from my Grandfather if you go by road. Adventurous boys quickly discovered other avenues by way of woodland trails and the like to cut that distance over time. For us the whole experience of visiting my Grandfather was best described as something magical.

For quite some time we were limited from freely exploring all areas of the house – a decision I can respect in hindsight. Even so, with time our curiosity grew along with our trust and little by little we were allowed to sleep upstairs and investigate all manner of things. We rode to job sites with my Grandfather and watched as he put hammer and nail to use to make masterfully crafted things out of wood. We escorted him and his beloved German Shepherd Mack to the vet for shots. As both the Song Leader and Caretaker of our church we even joined him countless times and endeavored to aid him in his regular duties.

I have spoken before about being introduced to chestnuts thanks to the chestnut trees that grew on my Grandfather’s yard. I’ve even mentioned his dutiful service to his country when called during World War II. I may have even had a word or two to spare about his hard working nature and handicraft regarding building things from wood – especially his own home in point of fact. But there are a number of things I may never have taken the time to talk about.

In retrospect I don’t think I would have ever become a writer at all if not for my Grandfather. A single example is etched into my memory; an image of me setting cross-legged in his living room floor with paper and pencil. I was working on a story about a ‘white knight,’ all shining armor and pure hero. Now, my Grandfather isn’t the most educated man in the world but he is far from being anyone you might say is lacking in mental ability. He asked me a little about the project my attention was focused on, then with a smile and a nod encouraged me to keep up the good work.

That single passing instance was perhaps the first thing that provided me forward momentum to push myself. If he thought that what I was doing was good work then who was I to argue? It was his personal motto that if something was worth doing then it was worth doing right the first time. And to his credit I have never once seen or heard a single soul ever having to ask him to redo any of his work, much less complain about its quality. I have always tried to work towards the same standards, even though my own skills might not be equal to his.

When my Grandmother suffered a stroke my Grandfather stopped working to try and care for her. My Mother, a nurse herself, did likewise and they moved in with us. Without any real thoughts or complaints my Brother and I offered up our bedroom. We basically lived in a corner of our living room for a time, helping out in any way that we could. Sadly, during my freshman year of high school my Grandmother passed away. She did so with all of us by her side and as I watched on with her husband always there. He never once shirked from his duty, never once acted anything other than dignified and shouldered every burden without complaint or regret.

He never returned to work. Everyone thought that he might simply give up and soon join his wife – but much as he had always advised he never gave up. Once he returned to his home it was a daily task of mine to deliver a meal to him. It was a highlight to my day as I would sit with him for a stretch and just talk about anything he wanted to. Although he never was able to take me under his wing and teach me even a portion of the carpenter’s trade as I had often dreamed he always had the time to give me advice on how to build or fix something. He would even encourage me to borrow various tools of his to do so.

But even though he never was able to teach me how to be a carpenter like him he taught me something far more precious. He showed me how to be a man. He educated me in dignity and honor – even when wearing simple working clothes. From him I learned to never flinch from a smashed thumb, a stabbing splinter or a sore back if there was a job to finish. Even in the face of so much sadness at the loss of a loved one he taught me to hold my head high and show them the respect they deserved.

In summary, I have found that I may have said it best when I dedicated my book ‘Metal In The Moonlight’ to him;

Dedicated to my beloved Grandfather; a more honest, honorable and simply strong character of a man I have never known. May we all be blessed to have such a handy hammer in our lives to help build us into a better man or woman.

I am deeply honored, blessed and humbled to have ever had such a teacher and example in my life. To all who knew him or have been touched by his life I can only pray they value his influence in their life as I do. He deserves to be remembered and respected – even if he would never ask for any such attention.