Grandpa Henry was my hero. He taught me to hunt, fish and to live life with a peaceful,simple perspective. I dedicated my first book on fatherhood to him and still think of him regularly, despite the fact that he’s been gone many, many years.
When World War I broke out, he was a hard-working farm boy from Northern Michigan. Like all red-blooded Americans, Grandpa signed up to fight against evil in a far away country. After the perilous ocean passage, he fought in many of the major battles, lived in rat-infested trenches, watched men die, and barely survived the deadly gas attacks so prevalent in that war. Grandpa’s battle-scared face and the jagged piece of German shrapnel that remained buried in his left leg were reminders of just how close he came to being buried “over there.” Had that happened, he would not have married; or had three children, one that died at age 5, and he would not have had his son, Robert, who became my own dad.
Years later, I was blessed to spend some glorious days at Grandpa’s side on his little farm. His many scars caused others to stare, but I found him to be the handsomest man alive. Together we fished the streams and hiked the woods until the sun would set and we’d return home for farm-sized dinners and peaceful sleep.
Grandpa’s wife, Eva, was very tough and at times, she mistook her husband’s gentle spirit and quiet tone for weakness. Whenever she’d raise her voice and demand her way, this battered warrior would give in, often with a smile. He loved her more than she understood and this was his way of honoring his wife. Inside I knew that since Grandpa had faced hordes of men bent on killing him, the little 90 pound dynamo only thought she ran the show. This peace-loving man had had enough of war and never again wanted to fight unless he had to, especially over little things. As I reached my teen years, I noticed that Grandpa was slowing down. Something wasn’t quite right, but he never let on to Grandma that anything was wrong.
I remember sitting at their Formica-covered kitchen table one night and listening to a discussion between the two of them about, of all things, carpeting. You see, they were quite poor and their carpeting had become very worn. The decision was finally made to replace it and Grandma unilaterally concluded that they would cover their entire house [all four rooms of it...] in a neutral color. She loudly stated that it would be easier to keep clean “when the men came in with dirt on their boots…”
Usually, Grandpa Henry would just give in to her wishes, but that particular night, he offered up his view with an innocent smile. It turns out that even as a young boy, he always wanted to have red carpet in his bedroom but now, more than 75 years later, he was still waiting for that to happen. This was his last chance.
Grandma’s response was fiercer than the enemy in the Argonne Forest. “It’ll show the dirt!” she scolded. “Won’t go with the rest of the house! And…I don’t like the color red!” I watched my grandfather’s smile slowly melt away as he dropped the subject. I could only hope she’d change her mind and give Grandpa the one simple thing he had wanted for so long.
Within a matter of weeks, two noteworthy things occurred at my Grandparent’s home. First, the carpeting was installed. The other thing that happened was that we learned Grandpa Henry had cancer. Bad cancer. The fast kind. What thousands of enemy soldiers failed to do was now being accomplished within his tired body by some misguided cells that robbed him of his strength and, within a matter of a months, of his will to live.
Grandpa faded fast and his final days were spent in a cold hospital room with a hard tile floor. The last time I got to hug his rugged neck he had just finished speaking to a visiting pastor about eternity. Two days later, he was gone. Brokenhearted, I wept for my hero, but I could find no comfort. It was my first face to face encounter with death and it shook my world so hard that it took God himself to put things right nearly 12 years later.
When I went back to visit my grandma, I learned that she, too, was broken and finally realized the beauty of the man God had given her to love. Each night, she wept and then slept in an empty bedroom. On the bedroom floor was neutral carpeting…
My dear friends, show kindness to those you love. You have no idea how long they will be with you. To give in is not a sign of weakness, but of great love. If you still have time to make things right, do it. Now.