“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Proverbs 22:1a NKJV
My children fondly remember the never-ending ice cream bowl at my grandfather’s. After sharing a meal together, my grandfather, with a glint in his eyes, would say, “How about some ice cream?” Ethan and Maggie would nod their heads with huge smiles as he scooped Schwan’s Chocolate Marshmallow Ripple into tiny pastel-colored melamine bowls. Just as the kids were about to scrape the bottom of their bowl, he would offer them another scoop, filling it again to the brim. This continued a few more times, until both were completely full. I debated internally whether I should put a stop to this, but my grandfather and my children seemed to be enjoying blissful moments in an ice cream haze. Besides, how does one say “no” to an octogenarian?
This month, my grandfather would have celebrated his 100th birthday. He died six years ago in March, just before his 94th birthday. I could discuss all the life events he has missed, including his youngest grandchildren’s’ graduations, marriages, and the births of his first great grandsons to carry on the Walter family name. I am sure he would have had an opinion about the Trump presidency, although, with his libertarian views, I have no idea in what camp he would have landed. He also would have experienced the pandemic and, sadly, the untimely death of his youngest son. Although I am sad about the things he missed, he lived a long life, and he lived it well. However, upon reflection, I am choosing to share a few lessons I have gleaned from his life.
First, you can lead a simple life and still have a big impact on others. My grandfather lived in only two houses his whole life, the farmhouse he was born in, and the house in town he died in. As far as I know, He held only two jobs: a farmer and a factory worker. He did not dress in high end clothing, buy expensive cars, or hold any political office. Instead, he lived within his means, dressed for the occasion, maintained his vehicles, and voted regularly. He impacted his family by making them important in his life. Whenever a child or a grandchild stopped by, he insisted on making a meal, usually grilled steak. He never hesitated to attend his grandchildren’s events, including baseball and football games, drama performances and birthday parties. He played Monopoly, scooped ice cream, and wrote out Christmas cards. He took some of his grandchildren hunting. I think all my cousins would affirm that they felt loved and cherished by their grandfather. Despite his stature, being 5’6” at his tallest, my grandfather was definitely the patriarch of the family!
Secondly, he set an example of how to love well, without reservation. My grandfather met my grandmother at a dance and was instantly smitten. He expressed his desire to marry her rather quickly, but my grandmother thought she was too young. He patiently waited for her to walk down the aisle a few years later. Despite the wait, he was able to celebrate sixty-one years of marriage to her. The last few years of my grandmother’s life, she developed some debilitating health problems. My grandfather took over all the household responsibilities, including learning how to make Rice Krispies treats for company. He took her to every appointment without fail. We have no idea how much he was doing for her towards the end of her life, because he did whatever it took without comment or complaint. He even passed up a dream trip to Alaska because he did not want to leave his beloved wife home alone. During her last days, he spent most of his waking hours with her at the hospital, holding her hand as she took her last breath.
Thirdly, traveling helps you appreciate the beauty that God created. My grandparents made it to all forty-eight contiguous states, starting off with their honeymoon in Niagara Falls. Although my grandmother loved to tour the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island and Wall Drug Store in South Dakota, my grandfather particularly loved National Parks. They traveled to the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains and the Redwood Forest. His eyes lit up when he would talk about seeing Old Faithful and the Grand Tetons. I once asked him why he never traveled to Europe. His reply was that the United States was rich in beauty and his goal in life was to capture the beauty in his own backyard!
Next, real whole foods add to the longevity of your life. My grandfather never liked fast food, frozen meals, or prepared box dinners. If you woke up early, most mornings, you could find him at the kitchen counter with a paring knife peeling whatever seasonable fruit was available. He also enjoyed the occasional bowl of Grape Nuts cereal with whole milk and sweetened with honey. His meals consisted of lean meats, vegetables, and potatoes. He snacked on hickory nuts and fruit. His one splurge in life was ice cream, yet he would even balance out that indulgence with handpicked, crushed strawberries as a topping.
Finally, my grandfather loved to learn. His formal education was cut short by his father’s poor health, forcing him to take over the responsibilities of the family farm. Yet, he continued learning throughout his life, whether it was about hunting, new farming techniques, automobiles, or world politics. He demonstrated to me that learning is a lifelong journey, not just a destination with letters behind your name.
All too often, we memorialize a person after they die, putting them on a pedestal that maybe was not deserved. By no means am I saying my grandfather was a perfect man. He had his faults and idiosyncrasies like all of us. Yet, if you weighed his life on a balance, you would find the positive he contributed to his family and community outweighed any of his flawed humanity. In Proverbs 22:1, Solomon emphasizes the importance of having a good name by saying, “it is to be chosen rather than great riches.” I am proud of my Walter heritage because Jerome Sylvester Walter made it a good name by living an honorable life!