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Saturday, January 25, 2014

5 lessons my Grandpa taught me

My Grandpa died last week at the age of 94. It simply won't be the same without him. Helping to fill the void, however, are the many life lessons he passed on to me and everyone he met. Here are just five of my favourites:

1) Have a signature dance move

There are a number of reasons why it’s a good idea to have a specific dance move you can call your own. Firstly, it helps eliminate any dance floor anxiety. You already know what you’re going to do - you’re prepared. Secondly, it reduces the chance of you unknowingly falling into step with the folks around you. There’s nothing worse than dancing in a group and then realizing you’re copying the moves of the person next to you. That’s exactly the opposite of being cool. A third reason is that you might - if you’re lucky - have that dance move named after you.

My Grandpa’s soft-shoe shuffle is known amongst the cousins as ‘the Grandpa dance’. I don’t plan to ever call it anything else. It will be passed down through the generations as ‘the Grandpa dance’ - and what a fun legacy to leave behind.

2) Eat a healthy breakfast

The concept of breakfast has been lost on my generation. Sipping a latte and scarfing a banana on the way to work - we should be ashamed. Something I admired about my Grandpa (and my Grandma too) was his commitment to breakfast. Real breakfast. Eggs and toast, or sometimes oatmeal. Pair that with some OJ, a coffee and the newspaper of your choice, and you can’t get a better start to the day.

Living to the age of 94 was most likely due to a combination of good genes and an incredible attitude, but if I had to pinpoint a specific secret to his long, happy life, I would say it was breakfast.

3) Be able to recite something from memory

Memorize something. Anything! Just pick some interesting words and commit them to memory - a poem, a historic speech, a passage from a book, a scene from a movie - it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a good idea to have a lovely kernel of spoken word entertainment for those nights when the power goes out, or if you find yourself around a campfire.

When the moment called for it, my Grandpa had a particularly brilliant poem at the ready. It was about a man name Archibald, and it was funny. His delivery was spot-on too. It can be difficult to transform a crowd of gabbing Paddens into a captive audience, but he never struggled to hold our attention. Ironically, I can’t remember anything else about the poem - just that it was about a guy named Archibald, and it was funny.

These are the things you wish you could ask him about just one more time. What was that poem? When did he memorize it? Why did he memorize it?

4) Talk to cashiers and waiters

And don’t back off when they seem: 1) embarrassed, 2) annoyed, 3) non-English-speaking 4) preoccupied 5) goth.

Anywhere we went - Safeway, Starbucks, a fancy Maui restaurant - he never failed to strike up a conversation (or at least attempt it) with the awkward teenager working there.

This isn’t just a heartwarming characteristic of a bygone era. As a former Ultimate Bagel employee, I know that senior citizens are just as capable of ignoring the girl behind the cash register as anyone else. This was a quality specific to him.

I never accompanied him across a toll bridge, but I have no doubt he would have attempted a conversation with the tollbooth attendant. No matter how many cars lined up behind him. Let them honk!

5) Work hard, enjoy yourself and be happy

Perhaps the best and most obvious trait of my Grandpa was happiness. He was genuinely happy. When my friends met him for the first time, this was always what they mentioned to me afterward.

And there was something very special about his happiness - something that made it feel stronger and more real than the more superficial joys we’re accustomed to in daily life. I think this is because it went hand-in-hand with pride and gratitude.

I took it for granted that he never complained. But now I realize just how rare a trait this is. Sure, he could rant about politics, baseball or bogus university degrees (mine - in journalism - was one of them). He had his principles and stuck to them. But he didn’t whine. He didn’t moan about the weather, or being tired or having to work in the morning. When I made him a GardenBurger - his first ever - all he said as he washed it down with a beer was 'It's interesting.'

He worked hard and built the life he wanted. He was grateful for his life, so he didn’t waste a second of it.

When he looked around the Thanksgiving table at his children, son-in-laws, daughter-in-laws, grandchildren and great grandchildren, he beamed with pride. He, together with my Grandma, have created a wonderful, loving family. If that’s not a reason to be happy, than what is?

It’s sad that he’s no longer with us. I’ll miss him a lot. But it seems only fitting that my overwhelming emotion be gratitude. I am incredibly grateful to have known my Grandpa, and to have known him for so long.  

Thank you, Grandpa, for teaching me so much.
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