It was my grandfather’s birthday over the weekend and I have been thinking for the past few days what exactly I was going to write about him. (No pressure or anything. It’s only that a significant number of people who read this blog are family members and know Grandpa rather well…)
I had thought about recreating something that my brothers and cousins did for him many birthdays ago (with the help of our parents). We each were assigned a letter that spelled out G-R-A-N-D-P-A and had a little paragraph that described how wonderful Grandpa was. Unfortunately, that was a long time ago and not only have I forgotten what my letter was but I also forgot what everyone else did, so that is not exactly a great start for a reenactment. (Although I am pretty sure that down in someone’s basement or crawl space, there is video evidence of this party that should definitely be brought out for a family viewing at some point.)
The hardest part is figuring out where to start. Grandpa is a multi-faceted man and it is hard to distill him down to just one theme. In a way, I think that is a problem that many grandchildren face with their grandparents. When you think of ‘grandparent’, typically the first image that pops to mind is someone who is older, maybe has some health issues or has a hard time getting around. But really, that is only one small sliver of their life and who they are. But many times, this is all that grandchildren really know about their grandparents. The person that they see right in front of them, right now. Sure, they may know some of the stories of grandpa or grandma’s life, but it feels like history or a whole different person.
Grandpa likes to talk about how he was never allowed to take Latin in high school and he jokingly (I think) thought this held him back in life. We saw an old report card from high school where he had to take Foundry. (I believe he got an A in that!) We heard about how he “Kept ’em Flyin’ ” during World War 2 and was stationed at Kodiak Island (possibly with Charlton Heston!) He was the first Sieracki to get a college diploma. He is the proud owner of a very successful business after working his way up from an accountant’s desk.
I was lucky enough to have an eye-opening experience a few years ago that really helped me to better see the full person that Grandpa is. In preparation for his birthday a few years back, Susie and I were tasked with taking pictures from various family members and turning them into a movie.
I didn’t remember ever seeing pictures of Grandpa from when he was a kid or a young adult. It was something that struck me as odd at first. I never thought about or pictured Grandpa that way before. I had just thought of him as the adult I had always seen in Door County and at Christmas parties. It was exhilarating to be able to go through all of these pictures from before even my mom and her brothers were born.
Then we started getting into trips and events that I remembered being a part of. There were trips to University of Illinois football games in the temperamental RV (which deserves its own blog post at some point) and Grandpa’s trip to Chicago Cubs fantasy camp.
Sometimes, I feel that being able to work with and go through all of those pictures was more of a present to me than a present for him. It was something I will never forget and really helped me to see Grandpa in a whole new light.
Over the past 34 years I have had many opportunities to hear stories from and about Grandpa. More importantly, I have been able to create more memories and stories of my own from being able to have him in my life. One of my favorites I have already shared previously, for it was partly my grandfather that made me the Cubs fan that I am today (whether that is a good or a bad thing is still to be determined, I suppose!)
One of my other favorite memories is going down to Florida with him and the entire family. I shared a room with him for the week and I was assigned a job. I was maybe 5 or 6 and my job was to get up every morning and go figure out what the weather was going to be and then come back to give him the weather report. It seemed so cool at the time to have an important job and to be able to do something for Grandpa.
I often think about the most important lesson that he ever taught me. I can still hear the quote in my head like it was yesterday. We were in Door County one summer playing a round of golf together. I hit an errant shot and my ball was a short distance from where we were standing. I was somewhat embarrassed and took off running towards my ball when he chastised me with words that I will never forget. He said “There is no running on the golf course!” He then proceeded to talk about how we were out there to have fun and enjoy ourselves and we shouldn’t go around in a such a big hurry.
It is a lesson that I have really taken to heart and a message I try to spread whenever I can. You can spend a lot of time rushing from task to task and before you know it, your whole life is behind you and you never even had a chance to enjoy it. The greatness of life is all around you. Take the time to enjoy it. That is one of the best things about Grandpa. He always seems to have a smile on his face and he is enjoying being in the moment.
When my brothers and I were younger, I remember talking one day with the family about religion and our faith. We got to talking about saints and other holy men and women of the church and how wonderful they all were. Then we started thinking about who we knew in our lives that could end up becoming a saint. We all quickly concluded that Grandpa would easily become Saint Norbert because he was such a kind and wonderful person. I think about that day on occasion and it makes me smile because the description is as valid now as it was back then. Norbert Sieracki, a saint of a man.