I used to think that love was something that could be quantified, a quality that could be placed inside of different boxes labeled family, friends, romantic interests. I was under the impression that love was complicated and that I wouldn’t understand it.
Through all the year’s I’ve known grandpa I’ve wrestled with this understanding because it always felt fundamentally wrong. Little did I know my Grandpa seemed to have the answer all along. Love wasn’t complicated or mysterious, it was something that should be ever-present. There was no middle ground.
Love for my grandpa was simple. It was shown through acts of kindness such as peeling the vegetables before dinner or breaking out the electric carving knife during a turkey dinner. It never felt like a thanksgiving or Christmas dinner in Lethbridge without the smell of a forthcoming meal soon followed by an unholy racket of a knife he’d used for years. Why get a new one when the old one worked just fine?
I’ve spent years of my life trying to understand what seemed to come so naturally to him. I’m in awe of a man that made the room glow with comfort and kindness. I’ll always marvel at his gift for small talk.
When I was young, we’d often spend weekends and summers at their house. We’d help (when pestered) with dishes and the lesser tasks of garden maintenance. We’d take trips to the bowling alleys and wonder where all the waves had gone in the local pool. Grandpa had to explain several times that the waves in the pool were a ‘Calgary’ treat.
He’d be patient as he taught me math in the basement, where my only escape was to ask questions about the horse racing memorabilia strewn across the basement walls. He’d see through my feigning interest immediately and urge me to take it seriously. I was never good with numbers, and if he ever grew impatient with my lack of understanding he never let me know.
He was calm, kind, and patient and always the master of letting me down gently. A stern tone that I can hear to this day. I feel I was let down so easily in the face of my errors because of the warmth in his voice. He always pushed me to do better.
Another pastime in the summers of my youth was shooting the basketball in the alley behind their house. The wood of the backboard was streaked white with paint that had chipped off years ago. Why get a new one when the old still worked?
I was often frustrated by basketball because I was never a good shooter. My greatest accomplishment while playing basketball in my high school years was scoring a record high of 2 points. A single basket. It’s terrible by any standards but it was one of the last games and I was desperate to get any amount of points at least once in the season.
Even though I reached my (admittedly low goal), my points came from a lay-up and not a true shot. I felt like I had failed all those years I spent in the alley learning from grandpa.
This was a long time ago, and I worry my memory is hazy, but I remember that after that game I remember I told him (in a masked pride) how happy I was to finally get some points. I remember him seeing through it and encouraging me to work through my troubles and keep at it. Offering to help me get more points on the board.
He said that I did well to get there, but I’d need to keep putting in the work.
That year our 8th place team went on to beat the 1st place team in the playoffs and I couldn’t help but beam with pride. I worked hard to get more playing time and my passing, defense, and dribbling improved. Even though my shots were atrocious, I carved out a niche in high school basketball and made myself essential. I worked to meet the standards I had learned I needed to meet.
I wouldn’t have kept trying without all those years in the alley. Gentle encouragement here, a laugh there.
This aspect of my grandpa became crystal clear when I worked a newspaper practicum in Fort Macleod. I’d stay with grandpa and grandma by night, and drive to Fort Macleod by day. It was new and exciting, but I was exhausted and my energy was drained each day I got home.
I’d look forward to the nights I’d come home to Grandpa and Grandma after work and we’d sit at the small round table and eat dinner, talking about our days. I’d long to hear the magic pop of the vacuum seal on a fresh jar of raspberries.
They were long nights and long days and all that came to a head when I rolled my car on my final day of the practicum. I remember feeling helpless, silly, and like a bit of an idiot. I was utterly embarrassed and ashamed that I’d managed to stretch myself so thin and risk my life.
When my dad came to get me from the hospital in Fort Macleod (with a clean bill of health), we drove back into Lethbridge to meet grandpa and grandma for lunch. I was rattled and distracted, yet I could feel all those feelings of shame disappear the moment our family gathered for a meal and we talked through my ordeal.
I tell you this because I feel like my Grandpa’s legacy to me is the vast amount of love and respect that he helped create in our family. I could do something as stupid as roll my car and feel comforted when he gave me a bear hug and told me he loved me and was glad I was okay. I can remember this hug because it helped me to move on and begin to laugh again.
It never mattered to my Grandpa how I failed, only that I picked myself back up and tried again. He taught me to learn to do better and find those who can teach you. He taught me to listen and find the joy in everything I do.
Visits with my grandfather were often punctuated with stories and I hope that these few stories about how he helped me have shown the spark of his character. The stories he told and the photo albums he showed me will forever be a great influence in how I live my life. To this day I now understand that my interest in travel and the pictures I take were shaped by afternoons spent sitting side by side with my grandpa and flipping through pictures of the Netherlands.
Thank you, grandpa. For everything you did for me and for helping me to understand that love isn’t complicated. Fill yourself with love because life is too short. If you love someone, show them. If you love someone, teach them. If you love someone, tell them with your stories. If you love someone, give them a great, big bear-hug that helps you move past your mistakes. Most importantly, if you love someone, tell them.
I love you gramps, and I’ll never forget what you did for me.