Characters of our past

WW1 medal

I was thinking of the people of my past the other day and how they may have helped shaped my views of the world. My fraternal grandfather died in 1975 when I was only twenty years old. I only remember him as an elderly man that liked to hunt, fish, and garden. His most active years occurred before I was old enough to know him well. However, there are several things I do know about him:

  • He and my grandmother raised ten children. Each became a productive member of society and valued hard work, care for each other, and love of family.
  • He served in World War I in the Army. I have a medal he was awarded (see photo) for his service in the Battle of Argonne Forest in France in 1918. This was the largest and bloodiest battle in the war and cost over 26,000 US lives with another nearly 100,000 wounded. My grandfather also suffered nerve gas exposure during the war.
  • He loved to gamble. I am told my grandfather was a terrific poker player and once, playing with funds fronted by an “investor”, won a farm and a pool hall in card games. I vaguely recall going to the pool hall as a youngster and getting a chocolate cola from his vending machine.
  • My grandfather was “old school” about helping around the house. After all, he farmed and ran a pool hall. However, family members talk about him helping my grandmother with household chores for ten days after each child was born. After day 10, he was back outside and my grandmother resumed running the house.
  • My grandfather (and grandmother) were generous people. After one of my aunts died of cancer, they took in her only son and raised him as one of their own. And, his brother-in-law (my grandmother’s brother) lived with them in their home for years because he had no other place to live.

Why do I recount this today? I can see how these few facts about my grandfather influenced my father who, in turn, had a significant impact on me. My father also served his country in the military and passed down a keen sense of country and patriotism to me. My father was competitive in games, sports, and life and he passed that down to me, as well. I gained my love for family and appreciation for proper work/life balance from them. I also love to hunt, fish, and enjoy the out of doors. I can clearly see how influential my grandfather was in my own life despite the sparse interaction we really had over the twenty years of my life until he died.

Whether we know it or not… whether we want it or not… our lives are impacting those around us. Nothing we say has as much impact as what we do and how we live to those around us. In fact, our actions effectively drown out almost all our words. Another example…

My wife and her cousin were recently talking about their common grandparents. I was fascinated to hear them both talk about how loving they were and how inclusive they were when children were brought into the family by marriage. They talked about how their grandparents accepted these children as though they were their very own from the first time they ever saw them. This love and acceptance was deeply imprinted on these cousins… actions, not words, made the difference.

Today might be a good day to consider how your life is affecting those around you. Are you leaving an impression that will be spoken of in 50 years as loving, caring, and inclusive? Or, will your actions be remembered as something else? Are you modeling character, integrity, and virtue to those around you, or is it something else? Take a few minutes today to pause and reflect on your own “characters from the past” and what impact they had on your life. It is my hope that those that come after us will fondly remember the positive impact we each had on their lives.

Today, I remember and thank my grandfather (Elza Henson) for his life of service and influence and what it still means to me after all these years.

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