I haven’t blogged recently but have felt an increasing desire and nudging of late to do so. Perhaps because of a life story I cannot seem to get out of my head.
Let me explain. As we go about our daily lives we interact with different people on many relational levels, from spouses, siblings, relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, teachers, and even acquaintances. Some of these people we tend to gravitate to more than others–people we admire so much that we keep going back to them for advice, friendship, or simply to spend time.
What’s really special about life are the days it seems God reaches down from Heaven and gives you a gift. Days where we have the fortunate opportunity of meeting somebody new, an experience that may come and go as a once in a lifetime meeting, or one whereby we come to know that person on a more intimate, lasting level. Either way, you can’t help but to remember them. Those for whom it matters not how much time has passed since you’ve seen them, but the feeling of connection and respect you have for them when you do.
In either case, these new introductions in someway lead to such beautiful moments in time, and priceless memories with that person, that they leave an imprint on our hearts, a lasting impression that seems to change who we are, and how we view the world.
My lasting impression is Grandpa Andy.
When my wife Christi and I first started dating we naturally talked about our respective families and the impact they have had on our lives. As our relationship progressed I could tell how incredibly fond she was of her grandparents on both sides of her family. And though I won’t get to meet her paternal grandfather until I see him in heaven, I have the privilege of occasional, yet unforgettable moments with her maternal grandfather, Grandpa Andy.
When I first met Grandpa, he and Grandma took us for a small tour around their house, a walk that was interrupted by the unusually cold, rainy weather near the end of May for Alisa Craig, ON. I could tell Grandpa was proud of his work, especially in the garden. What I would come to learn is that that garden had become for him a trophy of sorts, a hobby that culminated from years of hard work as one of the most successful farmers in Canada during his lifetime. He once held the title of General Manager of the prestigious Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, the largest combined indoor agricultural fair and international equestrian competition in the world. In this position he entertained the likes of Princess Anne, Nancy Reagan, Canadian politicians, and other British royalty.
As the weather led us back inside their beautiful home, it didn’t take long to realize that beyond his life accomplishments lay a concern for others that’s exceptionally rare. As we sat in his living room, I nestled into the recliner. He and Grandma took the couch across from me. With Grandma and Christi engaged in a side conversation, Grandpa Andy inquisitively began asking me questions about my life, not as if he were to decide whether this relationship should go on, but with a genuine concern for who I was. The longer we sat there the more pride welled within him. I began to immediately feel like his own grandson.
Since that first meeting I have gotten to know Grandpa better. I get the sense he’s one of those grandfathers who brags on his children and grandchildren all of the time. Just as I write this I picture in my mind his bright smiling face lighting up the room as everyone walks through the door to greet him. His concern and love for his family is truly defined by gentleness and compassion. It seems to be a symbol for him of true success. I once heard it said that all that matters in life is who you loved and who loved you. If that’s true Grandpa Andy has reason to smile–he is leaving behind quite a legacy.
I’ll never forget when Christi asked me what I thought of getting married near her grandparent’s 60th Anniversary.
“Josh, they have such an amazing marriage and I think it would be so great to honor them at our wedding.” What does a groom-to-be say to that? 60 years?
Christi later told me that she never heard Grandpa say one bad thing to or about Grandma, or did she ever hear of him speaking down to her either. It doesn’t surprise me. Grandpa Andy has one of the most gentle, yet strong personalities you’ll ever encounter–a combination of true leadership and love.
On our wedding day, it was this very character and passion that Christi and I formally proclaimed that we longed for in our own marriage. Grandma and Grandpa’s faithfulness to one another was honored that night as Christi gave her bouquet to Grandma and we led them onto the dance floor for an old song they used to enjoy together in their college years; a song fitfully titled, Let the Rest of the World Go By. The gaze of Grandpa’s eyes and the look on his face that evening as he led his beautiful bride around the dance floor said it all. Six decades from now, I want that too.
The love for his wife wouldn’t be stated quite as well if I didn’t include at least one more memorable moment from earlier that same day. As everyone was entering the reception hall, Grandpa Andy stood with my stepdad Mike watching us take pictures with other family members. Creating small talk, my stepdad nodded toward Christi and said to Andy, “She sure looks beautiful doesn’t she?” Without missing a beat Grandpa Andy pointed to Grandma and said, “Yeah, but this woman right here’s pretty hot too.”
Mike couldn’t wait to later tell me about that precious moment the two of them shared together that day. Fortunately, when we got our pictures back, our photographer had captured it on film.
Today, Grandpa is wrestling with cancer and is currently rehabbing from a stroke he had a few weeks back. At 87 years young I’m impressed of the fight I see in him. He is a fighter, and learning about the extreme poverty he grew up in and how he overcame it, I understand why. Before we leave any visit with him he’ll shake his fist, and confidently exhort us, “Keep up the good work.” If we’re going through a hard time he’ll say, “Hang in there.”
I have learned so many things about him from my wife in the last few months. I doubt I’d learn much from him if I lived closer. I’d probably take him for granted. That or he would be asking me all of the questions anyway because that’s just who he is.
In a recent visit with him on Good Friday, we were reviewing pictures together of our wedding last June. As we finished, Grandpa Andy was staring through the wall. It was clear he was deep into memories of long ago. Tears began to well up within him. After a few seconds of sharing this moment, I boasted, “You sure have one beautiful wife, Grandpa!”
He slowly turned his head, looked at me through his tears, and said, “I chose her!”
I hope you’re challenged today to strive to become somebody like Grandpa Andy. A man of character, faith, strength, love, compassion, hard work, and perseverance. A man who, though I’ve spent little time with, has left an imprint on who I am, and who I want to be.
As we were leaving our visit with him on Good Friday I shook my fist at him, and said “Hang in there.”
He replied, “You can count on it.”
UPDATE: Grandpa Andy went to be with the Lord in July 2011. Christi and I had our first child a little over a year later and named him Landon Andrew, after both of his maternal grandfathers. Grandpa Andy’s legacy will always leave an impression on us all.