It rained today, our second day of school, and we had something heavy that came up just after breakfast. My grandpa died. I looked at the girls after putting down the phone. I told them; we cried. Soon after it was raining, and … well. We’re like those Cather pioneers, our family. We just go on. “Let’s read. Let’s dive right in,” I said.
I’m teaching them, I suppose, that stuff happens and soggy grief is totally appropriate; but also, later, when we’re composed, there’s wisdom in a little keeping-on, too. Around 10 or so we got the books off the shelf; the stories were pure escape. Kipling’s “Just So Stories,” and “Our Island Story,” and Aesop. We broke out the abacus; the Scrabble tiles for spelling. The girls loved it. Me too.
Moments like this remind me — mom with a planner, woman with a Saturday shirt, runner with a set route — we’re not in control, right? We’d be foolish to either cancel everything while Something Big happened all week — as if it were an emergency, not life — or to barrel on stupidly like Nothing Big happened — as if it weren’t important. It is of utmost importance. We’ll stop and celebrate life this week. It is so.
But, today, after books and math and lunch, I needed to look at old pictures; I found a few that made me laugh. But, on the couch with my tea watching the rain pour like the soaker setting on the garden hose, I just … I just started thinking about this bin in our garage. So I got out the ladder. I couldn’t lift the bin; it’s got scrapbooks in it, pictures, some mementos that have lost their stories. Know I’m not a scrapbook person. This one was created for an assignment: our senior English teacher had us keep one, and gave assignments to complete. One was to ask our important people to share their keys to a happy life.
And I’d completely forgotten this. I had no idea until the second my hand landed there on that page that Grandpa had answered that question.
What he shares isn’t really groundbreaking; it’s not anything that hasn’t been said more eloquently before. But I love this little memo to one of his 34 grandchildren. And it’s honest.
“First you have to get things in perspective. God has to come first then your wife and yourself then the kids. If you keep in that order, every thing else falls into place. Your business you have to treat every body like you expect them to treat you. Then after that golf golf golf golf. Then dance and dance and have fun with your grandchildren and your own children. After all when you are raising your own family you don’t have time to enjoy the kids. So when you retire you can play and grow flowers. And there are no more Monday mornings again. Grandpa Al.”
And I appreciate that something that seemed so simple to me in 2001 was nonetheless put in a bin and moved to basements, closets and garages eight times and mostly forgotten about until now. Thank you, God. And how like God …
(For the curious, my grandma’s first line is “Get plenty of sleep.” My mom’s says “Your happiness won’t be measured by the size of your house.” My psychology instructor said to meditate and pray.)
I’m telling you, these are my people.
Now let’s go, all of us, to our nearest stationary drawer or legal pads, and write our answers to the happy-life question, and lick that envelope shut. Write someone’s name on it, and they’ll find it later or they won’t, but it’ll at least get you dreaming, right, and being grateful for someone to share it with.
Mine may begin, too, “Get plenty of sleep,” and then “You have to keep things in perspective.” Then, I’ll probably mention something about books, smooshy baby cheeks, and the importance of knowing birds. That’s a decent start.