If there is a will, then there is a way is a phrase that I never heard Grandpa utter. When I look at what he accomplished in his life, though, that is the catch-phrase that comes immediately to mind. Grandpa just wouldn’t take “no” as a possible answer when he wanted something: he wanted to attend the Naval Academy–he persisted until they let him in–even though he was technically too tall (nothing that bending your knees a bit can’t fix). The academics at the Academy were brutally rigorous. Grandpa had to seek extra help to master the concepts throughout many courses. Instead of deterring him, this invigorated him.
Upon graduating from the Naval Academy, Grandpa choice to enter the service of the Air Force. They promised him extra education. During his first assignment in the Air Force, Grandpa realized that they were not going to train him in the skills they had promised after all. This was not acceptable! So, after his superior office repeatedly said no, he went over his head and wrote back home. He held people to what they had promised, and soon after that, Grandpa was relocated to a different station where he could get the training he so eagerly wanted. Grandpa’s “take the bull by the horns” attitude propelled him forward in the Air Force. He returned to school to get not only his Master’s Degree, but also his Doctorate. The only thing his determination could never earn him was certification of passing fourth grade. Somewhere in heaven, I hope he finds that teacher and that they can have a good laugh. Who fails a student multiple years in a row??
Grandpa’s accomplishments in the Air Force are astounding. He was a part of the team that transformed airplane navigation, and he also got to analyze intel that was then shared with President Kennedy. Grandpa didn’t like that though. He requested–repeatedly, and until it happened–that he be removed from that position. It didn’t sit right with Grandpa the way that analysis and decisions work in federal government. In true Grandpa style, he pestered the right people until they moved him to a different position.
After he retired from the Air Force, Grandpa and Grandma returned to Stillwater–where he had earned his Masters and Doctorate–and Grandpa began working for Oklahoma State University. Eventually he retired from there, too. And that is where my memories of Grandpa begin.
Every memory I have of him takes place after his esteemed professional career ended. And I have 27 years of memories–Grandpa lived life fully. There are the moments that are burned in my brain: laughing with Grandpa at my wedding, Grandpa holding Lilah on her baptismal day, building my IPC project over Thanksgiving Break in 9th grade, and the brisk walks around Boomer Lake–no one could never keep up!
Grandma and Grandpa made visiting us a priority wherever we moved to. Even when we lived in North Pole, Alaska–they trekked up there. For all the years we lived in Oklahoma, we regularly got to have trips to their house. One year we spent Eater there with some friends from South Africa. Grandma and Grandpa were so welcoming. During the Christmas season, Grandpa always showed us where the best Christmas lights in town were–they are still my standard today.
Since Chris lived so far away, and Garrett didn’t arrive until much later, most of our activities were just Hannah and I. Hannah-with her tight blond ringlets and her infectious smile-was cherished by Grandpa. Little Hannah could do no wrong. She was Grandpa’s buddy. He’d hoist her up on his shoulders, she’d giggle and toss her hair, and the two of them would be off. Grandpa was overjoyed when, years later, Hannah chose to attend OSU in his hometown. Although she switched universities after the first year, to ultimately graduate from the villanious Texas A&M, Grandpa loved the time he got to spend with her at OSU–and he loved that she met Travis at his school.
The impact that Grandpa had on me was one I didn’t fully embrace until about 8 years ago. You see, before then, I was pretty judgmental, a trifle insecure, and not wise enough to realize that I just didn’t understand everything. I would hear Grandpa try to convince me not to go into education and think, “He just doesn’t get it. I am born to teach. It doesn’t matter if I don’t make a lot of money.”
I didn’t get it. I heard his statements as judgments on my poor decision making ability rather than confidence that his granddaughter had what it took to succeed in the professional worlds he so deeply wanted me to conquer. Grandpa believed that I could do so much more than teach children. Grandpa didn’t love superheroes–they are too unrealistic–but he did love Wonder Woman. It wasn’t until recently that I realized maybe Grandpa loved Wonder Woman because he believed his own girls could do anything–achieve any dream. He wanted me to dream bigger than I did at 18.
A year and a half ago I found my dream house. It would shorten Adam’s commute by half. It would mean living down the street from my job and Lilah’s school. Having learned how valuable Grandpa’s knowledge was, I went to talk with him about the house. I wanted to know if he would front us money for a down payment that we would repay over the next two years. Typical of his generosity, Grandpa wouldn’t hear of it. He wanted to give us the down payment. I wanted to show him all of the reasons that this particular house was a good investment, and he said he would look at it, but that it didn’t matter. He trusted my judgment.
This was one of the most powerful statements Grandpa made to me: He trusted my judgment. Over the last few years Grandpa has repeatedly told me that I did the most important thing right: I married Adam. I picked a great spouse. He would say that the most important choice in life is to marry the right person. He was thankful that both his children and granddaughters have the right spouses.
In the years since Grandma’s death, Grandpa would frequently insist that Grandma was amazing. He loved to talk about how marrying her was the best decision he ever made. She was an incredibly devoted mother. She was intelligent. She was his partner. He couldn’t stop talking about it. He’d tell me how amazing my mother was. How proud he was of her for the woman she had become. He held her hand so often this past month saying, “Best daughter. I love you. I love you.”
Grandpa also loved getting to spend time with his great-granddaughters. He would watch Lilah play with a light in his eyes that I never noticed when I was young. On the occasions that he got to cuddle Adaline, he was overjoyed. The presence of his little girls comforted him.
It breaks my heart that he isn’t going to see any of the photos I’ve been sending him of Lilah or the snow that fell while he was in the hospital. I’m sad that I won’t see the twinkle in his eye or the wiggle of his ears. Over the last week, I would sign I love you, and he would wiggle his ears back at me.
So, I will teach Lilah to value family, hard work, and have confidence in herself. I will look at Garrett’s smirk and see the smile of Grandpa. I will listen to Chris and hear the intelligence of Grandpa. I will always see Grandpa’s cherished one when I look at Hannah. As I hug Lilah and Adaline, I will feel the hope of the future. And when I hear stories about Wonder Woman, I will smile as I remember how blessed I am to have a grandfather who believed in me.