My grandfather was born one year and one week after Oreo cookies came into existence, and he lived to celebrate 100 years March 13, 2013, meeting his only great granddaughter, my daughter Meredith Violet, and holding his youngest of four grandchildren, my son Russell Rain. Though he lived in Florida during much of the time I was growing up in New Jersey, he visited about once every year or two. My family drove to Florida to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary around 1995 or 1996. I learned most of what would be considered life lectures not from his words but from my Grandpa’s actions.
Life Lectures From Grandpa: show don’t tell
Of the times I talked with my grandfather, I remember more about how he showed me to live than what he said. “Children should be seen and not heard” was a popular phrase for his generation, but he showed us more by listening to us.
1. Eat well
I remember laughing when my grandfather picked flowers and assorted berries from the yard of our suburban New Jersey home in the early ’90s, if not the late ’80s. He put the plant life in a bowl after washing it. I believe we ate violets, but his action inspired me to look to nature for sustainability.
Ellen Eldridge, age 5 or 6, with her brother and grandfather. Grandmother is at the door, checking on supplies for the lemonade
2. Be entrepreneurial
Grandpa encouraged my brother and me to start a lemonade stand as kids. Though the business is a cliche like tea parties and playing princess, I don’t think either of us kids would have thought to start our own business without someone’s lead. We likely sold little, but the actions that day spoke louder than words and I’ve gone on to start more business ideas including a fanzine in high school.
3. Keep exercising
My grandfather still mowed his own lawn at age 90 with a push mower. Not the electrical kind either. When visiting him and my grandmother, we grandchildren felt amazed that they not only got into the swimming pool still but also my grandfather dove in from the diving board. Staying active kept my grandparents healthy.
4. Value your roots and family history
Grandfather and my father, who was the eldest child of four, took an interest in tracing the family’s lineage and building charts of our ancestors. Valuing your family means taking care of them while they’re young as much as it means never forgetting the ones who’ve come before you.
5. Do what you say you will do
The value of following through came by way of life lectures from Grandpa in that he always did what he said he would do. From making salad to waking up early and making the bed, he did what he said he would do.
6. Earn your way in life
As much as my brother, sister, cousins and I loved getting coveted quarters from Grandpa, he insisted we earn them by pulling weeds or studying to make good grades. The life lectures from Grandpa of earning money were continued by my father, who insisted we complete chores for an allowance.
7. Save money
Even more important though perhaps a lost lesson, saving money was a life lesson Grandpa and my father tried to instill from a young age. The importance of making conscious purchases and not frivolously wasting money dawned on me toward the end of my twenties rather than at the beginning, but Grandpa tried.
8. Honor your country
Many of the people my age and younger have grandparents and parents who served in the military. My Grandpa gave me a large seashell that I believe he told me came from the beach at Normandy. He never spoke much about war, but knowing he served proudly in the Navy encouraged me to later join the Army Reserves.
9. Treat other people as you would have them treat you
My Grandfather first taught me the Golden Rule. This was one life lecture he never had to show me. I took his word for it that the kind thing to do is treat people the way you want to be treated.
10. Don’t stay in a job you don’t like
My grandpa never ran from responsibility, but he made sure to encourage my father and his other children to follow their hearts. My father became a mechanical engineer. I know as much as I knew to follow through with the lemonade stand idea that doing what you like is the key to never feeling like you’re working.
11. Always be honest
By never lying to me or anyone else I’m aware of, my husband’s father, who is now 78, taught my husband to never lie. The strength of doing what you say inspires integrity.
12. Don’t judge people based on age
Not my grandfather, but a nontraditional student over the age of 70 taught me not to judge others based on their age. Universities and colleges allow people over a certain age (62 in Georgia, where I am enrolled) to attend tuition free. The man who has showed up and worked twice as hard as traditional students proved one of life’s most important lessons is to educate yourself.
13. Family first
I interviewed briefly a woman who had just turned 100. She reminded me of my grandfather, as he had just died a few months before his 101 birthday. I asked the woman what her favorite memories were and she just said family meant everything to her. It made me happy to know I decided to travel more than four hours with a screaming 3-month-old son and moody 2-year-old daughter so they could meet their great grandfather on his 100th birthday.
14. Plan but don’t spend all your time planning
One of my Grandpa’s and now one of my favorite quotes is “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Planning and making strategic choices are crucial to learning from mistakes, but with great risk comes great reward. Live a little and enjoy spontaneity when possible and appropriate.
15. Rely on no one but yourself and love everyone
My Grandfather taught me and everyone in our family by example. He stayed active and supported my Grandmother until she passed away around age 92. After she was gone, my Grandpa remained in his own home until the end of his life, at age 100. While he had a caretaker who came to the house, my Grandpa took care of himself until the very last few years. I know he accepted a ride to the store once a week to buy food, and he cooked for himself well into his nineties. His self-reliance kept him independent, but he remained loving and welcoming to everyone who came to visit. I believe the love and family surrounding him at his 100th birthday gave him the satisfaction and courage to move into the next lesson, the afterlife.