When you look back on life, is there anyone in your past who is responsible for your being who you are today?
I particularly remember my fraternal grandfather in this way. Always laughing and cheerful, he made me change my sluggish adolescent mind into one that took pride in a sense of accomplishment, as a reward for a job well done. I mean what 14-year-old likes work, right? Well, I wasn’t any different.
Of course, I was used to my grandfather’s ‘whistle while you work’ attitude, but I thought that that was unique to him. So, when he asked me to help clean our outside family home windows, I thought he was crazy. Yeah, right … crazy like a fox … he really pulled a ‘Tom Sawyer’ on me! (You know the kid who talked his friends into painting his fence for him?)
“Freddie”, my Grandfather said, “just think how sparkling those windows will be … all shiny in the sunlight!” He went on and on, telling me how much fun this was going to be and eventually sold me on the idea. And, looking back, he was right. I can still feel how good I felt looking at all those gleaming windows.
As a result, this way of looking at things has been the cornerstone of my life ever since.
If my grandfather whistled while he worked, my wife’s dad, ‘Dodie’, positively danced and sang his way through life … his and ours!
Growing up poor, over 90 years ago in Edinburgh – in an environment that seemed straight out of Dickens – Dodie was orphaned from an early age. Living like a street urchin, he learned to survive using only his wits. “Nothing colder than charity!” he would instruct our kids, as he regaled us with his sense of humour and charm.
I can still see him now during one of his weekend stays – making Sunday morning pancakes for the grandkids … dancing a jig in a night shirt that would have made Scrooge proud… and singing his heart out to an old folk tune, ‘Mother Brown:’ “Knees up mother Brown, knees up mother Brown; knees up, knees up, don’t let the breeze up; knees up mother Brown!” And, like the Pied Piper, he had the whole family joining in before he was through.
Both these men were vastly different from one another, but shared some basic similarities. They were mere mortals like all of us; however, unlike many of us, they resolutely failed to give in to life’s problems. In this, they shared the qualities of infectious happiness and caring, shunning negativity and thoughtlessness. Being both navy men during wartime, maybe they valued life more than most; and took it for granted less.
I can’t help but be reminded of a verse from H.W. Longfellow’s poem, A Psalm of Life:
“In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!”
I’m sure that they would laugh at me writing this now. I’m smiling now, just thinking that they would.