Friday, January 4, 2013

a century

My grandpa turned 100 on December 15th. He was born in 1912, the youngest of 12 children. His parents traveled to America by boat from a German colony in Russia, then took a wagon the rest of the way. When they got here, they dug a hole in the ground, tipped the wagon upside down on top of the hole and filled in the gaps with mud and sod. They lived in that makeshift structure while they built something more permanent. My grandpa was born in that sod house. He lived on a farm, taught in a one-room schoolhouse, sang in a men's quartet, traveled the world, raised five children, and helped build a submarine. His 100 years have been fully lived.

I volunteered to speak at his birthday party. Here's what I said...

"When I think about my grandpa’s life, or at least the quarter of it that I’ve been able to witness, I think of three things: family, service, and hope.

The first thing, family, comes to mind right away because my grandpa has always been very committed to his family. I spent quite a bit of time at their home as a child and those days are some of my sweetest and most vivid memories. I remember feeding ducks at the arboretum, watching puppet shows in the park, and picking raspberries in the backyard. I remember watching cartoons together and eating pistachio pudding. I remember warm meals and wonderful conversations about what it was like to grow up a whole century ago. I couldn’t get enough of those stories.

I was kind of a theatrical kid. I loved attention. And my grandparents were my absolute biggest fans. Whether there happened to be an ice-skating show on the tile in their basement, a circus on the tire swing in their backyard, or a concert in their living room, they never missed a show. My grandma would pop popcorn and my grandpa would buy it from me. We would make tickets, and I’d tear them their rain checks. Then they would sit and watch and smile and clap, wholeheartedly, without distraction. For them, there were no cell phones to answer, no tasks to check off their to-do lists. In those moments, and there were a lot of them, I was it."   

[Here's where I started getting a little choked up.]

"I remember Oprah asking parents of young kids -  “Do your eyes light up when they walk into a room?” No question – my grandpa’s eyes always lit up when he saw me, and they still do." 

[And here's where I started sobbing. I tried to keep it together but it was useless. I literally had to wipe some snot off my face. And then from the front of the room, sitting beside my grandma, my grandpa said, "You're doing great." That's when I really lost it. Such a sweet little statement from a man who loves me a whole lot. That little kindness just did me in. Eventually I got it together...well, sort of.]

"There’s no greater feeling for a little girl, or a grown woman for that matter, than having someone love you that much, so much that their eyes light up. My grandpa really, really, really loves his family. I’m sure the other grandchildren have felt this. I’m sure they’ve seen my grandpa’s eyes light up too.

The second theme, service, is something that many friends, family members, neighbors, and even strangers have received from my grandpa at one time or another. My grandpa has always been a masterful fixer. No malfunctioning toaster or broken car could beat him. His determination, brain power, and especially his love for helping others allowed him to repair almost anything. Just this past year, he fixed a clock for my husband and I. He also loved inventing things. If someone had a task that wasn't going very smoothly, he would create a tool or some sort of contraption to help them, using just his brain and the stuff in his shop. But my grandpa’s service hasn’t been limited to repairs and inventions. He has always loved helping others – mowing lawns, driving people where they needed to go. Years back, he even won the Good Neighbor Award. I think he definitely deserved it.

The third thing, and the most important thing, that comes to mind when I consider my grandpa’s 100 years is hope. My grandpa wasn’t a spiritual person when he and my grandma married in ­­­­­­­1940. But my grandma faithfully prayed for him every day, and the rest of us joined in as we became old enough to develop our own relationships with God. It wasn’t til my grandpa was 88 years old that he gave his life over to Christ. He was baptized later that year. There were many times when we wondered if it would ever happen. But one day, with tears in his eyes, he told us that he had put aside his stubbornness and decided to let God in. That night, he prayed the blessing over our meal. It was the first time any of us had heard him pray. I can’t express the joy we felt in that moment. 

Even at 88, salvation created a unmistakeable change in my grandpa’s life and demeanor. He has always been kind, funny and caring. But his voice softened. His heart warmed. His eyes brightened. Joy, patience and gentleness flowed out of him, and still do. Today, my grandpa is one of the biggest prayer warriors I know. I am certain that on any given day, he and my grandma have prayed for me, for my husband, for my daughter, and for the rest of our family. 

Some of you may have people in your life who you feel are beyond hope. Some of you may feel that you yourself are beyond hope. But my grandpa’s life is proof that no one is beyond hope. His life is proof that an old dog can learn new tricks, that transformation can take place at any stage of life, and that prayer really does work. This, to me, is the most important part of my grandpa’s legacy. This hope is something that sticks with me and that I share with others often. Thanks so much for allowing me to share it with all of you today. But most of all, thank you, Grandpa, for being a good man, a man of character. For being a man of your word, a family man, a man of God. We love you dearly."

I wanted to share pieces of my grandpa's story with all of you because, first of all, I just really love my grandpa. And secondly, because this is a blog primarily about infertility, loss and parenthood. Sometimes I forget this because it happened so many years before I came along, but my grandparents know what it's like to lose a child. Their son, Richard, was born perfectly healthy. Just a few days later, while finishing up their hospital stay, Richard was very upset and crying when a nurse tried to calm him with a bottle. Apparently, she was rather forceful with her efforts. Baby Richard aspirated the milk into his lungs and died. I cannot even begin to imagine the agony my grandparents suffered as a result of this senseless tragedy. I have asked them about my uncle Richard but not very many times. I wonder how often they think about him. I wonder if their hearts still ache sometimes. I wonder if they look around the room at family gatherings and think, there should be one more. And I wonder if at ages 100 and 93, when heaven can't be far away, my grandparents look forward to a joyous reunion with their son, the son whom they barely got to meet, the son whom they have missed for nearly sixty years.

I will leave you with these sweet pictures of Harriet and my grandpa, each showing off their latest milestone.


  1. Meant to tell you after you spoke at Grandpa's party, that you hit the nail on the head. Grandpa's eyes lit up for all of us grandkids, and I'm so grateful for that. So many kids never get to feel that joy/love/enthusiasm directed towards them as most of us grownups are so tied up with ourselves and our gadgets to show it.

    It was so great to see you and meet Harriet!

    1. So glad you have had that same experience with Grandpa (and Grandma too, of course). We are so, so lucky.

  2. Ahhh! I don't even know where to start! What an amazing tribute to your Grandpa. You have such a way with words. And what a beautiful story of coming to Christ. I needed this inspiration today. Also? Your Grandpa looks so great! I would never have guessed he has reached his 100th birthday. Those pictures with Harriet are adorable!

    1. Thanks very much, Risa. Yeah, I'm hoping those good genes do some magic for me like they've done for him! (-:

  3. What a wonderful tribute to your Grandpa! He is a gem (and so is your Grandma)! My grandma lived to be 104, such a blessing to have them for so long. Enjoy the precious times God gives you.

    :-) Heidi Fluth

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