Update: The world lost my favorite Grandpa Bob this morning (12/8/17). While he may be gone, he’s never forgotten. I’m forever blessed to be his grandson. We’ll miss you, Grandpa.
When I was a kid, I was told that my Grandpa Bob didn’t like macaroni and cheese. When you’re a kid and you hear your grandpa doesn’t like one of your favorite foods, you can’t help but wonder if something’s wrong. What kind of person doesn’t like that stringy, cheesy, delicious goodness that is macaroni and cheese? I later learned that grandpa’s aversion to macaroni and cheese stems from this being the household staple of his family during the Great Depression, an era which comprises almost all of my grandpa’s earlier memories. While macaroni and cheese to me was a symbol of fun, to my grandpa it was a symbol of that time of immense suffering and shortage.
Grandpa Bob just turned 87 years old. Like the story of Grandpa not liking macaroni and cheese, there are some elements of his experience, growing up during the Great Depression, and my experience, growing up during the economic boom of the 1990s, that serve to illustrate the wide generational gap in his generation’s values and those of my generation. Grandpa Bob lived through the Great Depression, was an adolescent during World War II, served in the Korean War, watched the space race of the 1960s, experienced height of the Cold War as an adult with a young family, watched the USSR dissolve, and then got to witness the rise of computers and smartphones and the digitization of everything. My own life begins late in his story, so uncovering his stories has been a source of delight for years.
I wanted to share a few of my favorite stories about Grandpa in honor of his 87th birthday.
Grandpa trained to be a Marine, making it through boot camp. Right before he was set to ship out to Korea, he was assigned to working in a warehouse in California. Grandpa never talks about his military service. I used to think this was possibly due to survivor’s remorse. Like, perhaps because so many of his comrades went to Korea, many likely losing life and limb, he felt guilty and like he didn’t “do his part” (even though, clearly, he did). But as I’ve gotten older, I don’t think that’s why. I think the reason why Grandpa doesn’t identify as a Marine is because he never served in combat. That is to say, in a generation when graduation ceremonies are regarded as you having “arrived,” Grandpa’s generation knows something else. It’s not simply completing boot camp that means you’ve arrived. You don’t prove yourself in the classroom. You don’t get a participation trophy for having completed training. You prove yourself on the battlefield.
Upon returning from his military service, Grandpa met Grandma at the “Club with No Name,” which was some sort of social club where “working class kids would get together and drink a pop.” Grandpa initially briefly dated Grandma’s older sister, before being introduced to Jodelle, my grandma. 60 years later, they’re still going strong. One of the things that I love about my grandparent’s story is that it takes us back to a simpler time in romantic lives. A time when guys actually took girls out on dates (and nobody lost their damn minds). A time before the internet when social clubs existed to help people meet other kids their age, as opposed to today’s internet-connected isolation, wherein we “swipe right” and “swipe left” rather than have conversations with potential romantic partners.
One of my absolute favorite stories that captures so much of what’s changed between then and now has to do with Grandpa and Grandma’s wedding. Like most weddings in that day, their wedding was a simple affair, with my grandma in a beautiful but simple wedding dress. Grandpa and Grandma arrived to their wedding early, so they could set everything up, and then, after their wedding, they went right back to tear everything down. This idea of the bride and groom, after having been shown out the door, returning to sweep and clean up cake would seem like a true trial to someone of my generation. But to them, it was normal. There wasn’t this glamorized, “we’re gonna be a prince and princess and live in a castle and never have problems ever again” idea that my generation starts their marriages off with. Instead, when you got married, you rolled up your sleeves and got to work.
Grandpa’s 60 year marriage to my grandma is just one of his many areas of extensive commitment. Grandpa worked the same job his entire career, growing a barren sales territory in Iowa into a million dollar-plus area. I love hearing him talk about the old owner of the safety equipment distribution company he worked for. A few years ago when chatting with him about his old boss he looked up at the sky and with a laugh said, “God, wherever he is up there you better be taking care good care of him, you hear?” It was fascinating to me that, after having worked for the same company his entire career, he still had nothing but glowing things to say about his old boss, all this time later. That sort of dedication to your career and loyalty to your boss, even when your boss is deceased, is something all too lacking, in a day when most people feel dissatisfied with their companies and careers and bosses.
One of the things I admire most about my grandpa is his identification with the “working class.” A big part of the reason my grandpa loves his old boss as much as he does is because he was the one person to give him a chance at a sales career, despite my grandpa not having a college degree. While my grandpa did make it beyond the working class in his own socio-economic status, he always remained deeply committed to his blue collar roots. I remember when I was 14 years old (in the year 2004), we were driving around town when my grandpa remarked, “You know, they just don’t build working class houses anymore.” And, of course, he was right. The 900-1200 square foot houses, brick and rectangular, of the 1950s and 1960s had been replaced by 2500 square foot homes, complete with vaulted ceilings and other intricacies reserved exclusively for the non-working class in my grandpa’s day. This remark stuck with me, as the truth of what Grandpa said nestled deep in my mind. Grandpa himself bought a house on the higher end of the working class neighborhood, and, nearly 60 years later, he’s still living there.
It was only four years later that the United States would witness the burst of the housing bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis, precipitated in large part because the United States was no longer building those working class houses. The wisdom of Grandpa Bob strikes again.
Grandpa’s lived in the same area of Minnesota his entire life. Grandpa stayed dedicated to his church for over 50 years, serving as a deacon and singing in the choir, until the church finally shut its doors. He’s had the same neighbor for five decades. Whether it was working the same job his entire career, his lifelong dedication to his marriage, or the fact that he’s lived in the same house since the 1960s, Grandpa has a level of commitment that is nearly nonexistent today. In a world of planned obsolescence, where people continually switch out the old for the new, the world desperately needs more people who are willing to be faithful. The world needs more Grandpa Bobs.