My Grandpa died today. He was 91. We knew it was coming, but nobody thought it would come so quickly.
When I hugged my Grandfather goodbye after a trip to visit him in August, part of me knew it might be the real goodbye, but I always planned on coming back to see him one last time. It breaks my heart I scheduled my return visit too late. I wanted to tell him all the ways he impacted my life. How much I loved both he and Grandma. I probably inherited his reservations about saying these sorts of things out loud, and just as is suggested in every tragic poem ever written on the subject, I wish I’d said them while I had the chance.
So I will say them now, by sharing some of the things I will always remember. If you’re reading this, you must either be related to Grandpa, or love being sad, or both. I hope my stories enhance your memories of him.
I’m extremely fortunate in that I have had many great role models. Both of my parents instilled the value of hard work, love, tenacity and education that have served me well in my life. My siblings and those they’ve chosen to share their lives with are wonderful people. My partner in life shows me how to grow with every year of marriage. I’ve had great teachers, mentors, and leaders my entire life, so if I were to imply that Grandpa is solely, or even primarily responsible for how I “turned out” would be disingenuous hyperbole and would be unfair to all the people who made me who I am today.
But he was no small influence either.
Grandpa, like many who were raised during the great depression, was hardworking and resilient, and believed he alone could shape the outcome of his life. I don’t know the details of his home life, but I know that his father disciplined him physically (as many did during that era), and from what I understand, frequently.
Getting poor grades in school and having no money for college, he joined the military. After serving, he enrolled at the University of Washington on probationary status. Grandpa has told the story several different ways, but basically he was allowed to enroll because of his military service, despite a horrible HS transcript. However, he was required to maintain a B average (or A, or +C depending on what year he told me the story), and the point of the story is that this would have been challenging for an average student, let alone a poor one. But he did it.
Interestingly, enough, he would be the first of 4 of my family members to live between 18th and 19th on 47th street, the UW greek system.
After earning his degree, he got his first real job, as a repo man for General Motors Financial. In a suit and tie, he spent his days walking onto someone’s property and driving off in their car against their will. I’m not sure how long he spent doing this work, but back then it was less common for someone to change employers as frequently as they do now, so it was probably a while. He put his time in, learned about the business world, and eventually went to work for Sylvania, where he would ultimately retire as the Senior Regional Sales Manager for the Western quarter of the United States. He made a lot of sacrifices to give his family every advantage he could. Now having children of my own, I’d suspect he made sacrifices that neither his children nor grandchildren will ever know about.
One aspect of my life that i can directly attribute to Grandpa is my career in sales. Since both of my parents spent their entire careers in public education, I didn’t have a strong working knowledge of the professional world, and looked to Grandpa for advice on what types of jobs I’d be good at with my Business Management degree. We were standing in the kitchen of my parent’s house during one of my trips home from college. “Have you ever thought about going into sales?” he asked. “You’d be good at it. You’re smart and you like to debate with people until they understand you. You could do really well in sales.”
For whatever reason, that stuck with me, and sales jobs were all I really interviewed for.
My love for all things Husky undoubtedly was born and fostered through my dad, a UW grad and lifelong Husky season ticket holder, but at the very minimum, it was strongly reinforced by Grandpa. Grandpa loved being the best, and Don James was practically a god to him. In his opinion, The University of Washington offered the highest quality education outside of the Ivy League (I might be exaggerating there a little bit, but not much), and that opinion definitely rubbed off on me. For decades he would travel to Seattle for home games, maintaining his season tickets for 50+ years before passing them along to me. When he got older and the trip became less manageable, he maintained his season ticket holder status, but stayed home, which meant that I went to nearly every game for free. He finally turned them over to me, and I share them with my dad to this day. During his final years, every time I saw him, he’d say “how about those Huskies!” No matter how foggy he was, or how much time had passed, The Huskies were something we bonded over. I’d hoped to watch their bowl game with him, but he didn’t make it.
One time in 1988 when my sister and I were visiting he and Grandma in LA, he accidentally shattered my belief in Santa Claus when, at a Mexican restaurant, when the subject of Santa came up, he asked me “you don’t still believe in Santa, do ya?” That was Grandpa. No bullshit. A quality that served him well in business, and frustrated family members. For better or worse, I got a little bit of that too.
On that same trip, he and Grandma took us (Leslie and I) to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, and several Dodgers games. I got to meet Kirk Gibson and Steve Sax at a pre-game baseball card signing event. Then we went to an LA restaurant that featured R2D2 as a robotic waiter. To this day, Keri and I prefer to spend our vacations at theme parks.
Because of my grandparents, I know what it’s like to spend both summers and winters in Sun Valley Idaho, a town that will be forever associated with happiness in my mind. Our family would visit and stay in the Grey Hawk Condos, and later in the home my grandparents built when they retired there. They took me fishing, swimming, hiking, skiing, ice skating, biking, roller blading… one year they took my sisters and I on a biking picnic, and brought along some random kids we made friends with back at the condos because they thought it would make it more fun for us to have some playmates. That was the year Grandma taught me about these new 1-row skates called “roller-blades.”
Once Grandpa decided something was the best, nothing less was ever quite good enough. And so I grew up learning about the best Pizza in Ketchum, the best golf course in Sun Valley, the best burger joint, the best hiking trails, the best ski rental place… whatever Grandpa had decided set the bar for quality.
I remember when he tried to take me to see Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail. Because Sean Connery. That was all he talked about. He loved Sean Connery.
My oldest daughter loved him, and he loved her. She knew who he was, his relation to my mom, and looked forward to seeing him:
He got to meet my youngest daughter twice. The first time, she was less than 2 days old. He held her and rocked her, and said over and over he couldn’t believe he was holding his great granddaughter when she was “only a day old.” I feel so fortunate for this.
The second time, she was a little more interactive:
Grandpa and Grandma raised 4 children who became successful, well adjusted, happy adults, and gave those children the parenting skills to do the same for 12 more kids of their own. They also made their own positive impact on the world through their professions, as educators, journalists, and business leaders. To date, there are 5 branches of Grandpa’s family tree who are retired from or currently make their living educating our youth. I expect there to be more.
I don’t believe in heaven or angels. I don’t believe Grandpa’s in a better place, or that he’s reunited with my grandmother. I don’t believe he’s looking down on me. Because of these beliefs, a lot of people ask me how I deal with death. How do you reconcile loss of this nature when you believe it’s permanent?
For me, human beings live on indefinitely in the lives of those they touch, and in an exponential manner, the lives touched by THOSE people as well. This effect can create a net positive or negative impact on the world as a whole. My grandfather was not perfect, and he had some substantial flaws, as we all do. But you can’t deny the legacy he left.
When Keri came to her first Christie family event in Sun Valley, shortly after we’d been married, I have a distinct memory of my aunt Kristin, who had most recently married in, welcoming Keri to the family and gushing about how much love the Christie family had. Being the most recent addition, Kristin found the amount of love my family shows each other to be truly special. I remember clear as day, Kristin telling my wife about how lucky she was to be part of such a loving, caring group of people.
This is what my grandparents built, and while their lives have ended, their legacy never will. It will only continue to grow, as I pass my heritage on to my children, as my parents did to me, and as my siblings and cousins will to their children.
I’m struggling to bring this trip down memory lane to a close, so I’ll end with this…
Grandpa, I’ll miss you, but you’ll always be here. We love you.