103: Everlasting Lessons

103: Everlasting Lessons

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Everlasting Lessons

A grandfather is someone with silver in his hair and gold in his heart.

~Author Unknown

While the women of our family slept in pre-dawn darkness, Granddad and I grabbed buckets and rods and slipped into his brown Zephyr station wagon. Rumbling up and down the hills of our Pittsburgh neighborhood, we were off on an adventure just for the guys. We sat side by side on the front seat as the music of Granddad’s oldies filled the car. When we pulled up to a creek behind a gas station, soft light spread across the sky. We were there. I stepped out and waited for the magic to start.

Wearing a trucker hat and overalls, Granddad transformed into a master fisherman. His face glowed as he dipped his worn bucket into the green water and slowly pulled it up. Like a kid in awe of a magician, I gazed wide-eyed at the hundreds of minnows that swam inside.

Back then I was just a nine-year-old boy happy to be spending time with Grandpa. But years later, memories like that one would mean much more. They were lessons in living and manhood. They were touchstones that anchored me in values and faith. And one day, those moments with Granddad would save me from myself.

Some boys look to their fathers for direction. I had my mom’s dad. Where my father’s presence was scarce, my Granddad was my rock. He imparted wisdom like he sowed seeds in his garden. He planted the knowledge and waited for it to sprout.

Any time we spent together was an opportunity to teach. He schooled me in the importance of learning new things. “You can play anytime,” he would say in the accent that revealed traces of his West Virginia childhood. “Crack open a book and learn something.” As I watched him work on car engines in the yard, he would tell me how important it was to learn a trade: “That’s something no one can take away.” When I would trail him around our backyard garden and help him tend to the tomatoes and green beans, he would tell me about enjoying God’s blessings.

Then Granddad got sick. His pecan-colored skin turned pale. His hair, always dyed jet black, showed its true silver. I watched his body weaken and his fight for living slip away. Ten days before my fourteenth birthday, my Granddad died of prostate cancer. Losing him was like losing my compass. Everywhere I turned, I was lost. Not only did I no longer have a father figure in my life, I felt abandoned and alone. Suddenly, I was left to be a man on my own. Or at least that’s what I thought.

I turned my back on the lessons Granddad taught me and started making bad choices. I stopped going to church. My birthdays, because they fell right after yearly anniversaries of Granddad’s death, were painful reminders he was gone. So I stopped celebrating them.

One day, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw someone I didn’t know. My eyes looked cold and hard. My heart was ice. I knew I was at a turning point. I could keep following the path I was on and end up defeated or dead. Or I could choose the road to hope. Right then, my grandma said something that shook me to the bone: “Your Granddad would be heartsick to see you like this.” Softly at first and then louder, I could hear his voice in my ears: “Learn a trade. Crack open a book. Be a man who makes his family proud.” The lessons Granddad taught me as a child returned to lead me when I needed them most.

Turning things around was a process. I stopped hanging out. I started learning an automotive trade. Slowly, purposefully, I started to find my way.

Today, I’m a husband and father. I own my home and work hard six days a week as a detailer at a car dealership. I dream of one day owning my own business. I know Granddad would be proud.

I go to his grave sometimes and thank him for filling me with lessons that live on like his memory in my heart. At my house, I have a picture of Granddad. His eyes crinkle with joy as he smiles. It’s my reminder to be the kind of man he was.

~Kevin Price as told to Kelly Starling Lyons

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