Every Wednesday I take my grandfather and his wife out to lunch. “Wait – his wife? Isn’t that your grandmother?” you ask. Well no, she’s his second wife. On Sunday the whole family got together to celebrate their 10th anniversary. They’re 97 years old.
Yes, when they were 87, they called both families together, paid for a lovely dinner, and then at the end of a wonderfully eloquent speech about the family and how much they loved each of us, they said in unison, “… But, we wanted to let you know that we’re spending your inheritance!” And for the next five years they literally traveled around the world together.
She now has Alzheimer’s, so she has good days and bad. Her quality of life is pretty good, though, because she has him. And my grandfather? He is still smart as a whip.
Yesterday we went down on the waterfront and had lunch composed of mostly local food: seafood and salad with berries. It was a beautiful day, we sat and watched the water and discussed how to change the world. Surprised you, didn’t I? Yes, every week there is a new topic to tackle, a new problem to solve. It has ranged from homelessness to climate change to the recession to our problems of garbage (Seattle ships garbage to Portland… long story). Last week it was peak oil. Yes, peak oil. He knows about it, and understands it, and tries to figure out how to solve it. Of course he doesn’t know the term, but who cares about the term – it’s just a term and it can be misleading anyway.
Yesterday’s topic was the bank crises. My grandfather built a couple of savings and loans from the ground up in the 70s and 80s. And he knew when to get out, too – a few years before the savings and loan crisis, he sold all of his shares and retired, because he saw it coming. Anyway, my grandfather mentored a guy named Kerry Killinger – gave him his first start and taught him everything he knew. He’s now the CEO of Washington Mutual. My grandfather says, with the shake of his head, “he knew better than to take those risks.” But that’s another topic. I want to get to the title of this post!
On Finding a Check Register
So, the other day I took my grandfather to buy a check register. It’s #12. The same one he’s used for 50 years. And he’s bought it from the same guy for 50 years. So we drove to his old neighborhood in Ballard, turned down a few side streets and then an alley and finally pulled behind a tiny run-down building where the guy’s shop was. It was closed, so my grandfather walked around and talked to the other businesses there to find out if the guy was still around. It was like walking through another era. In this little building there were three small businesses, all had been around forever, were run by the business owners themselves, and had people coming in as they had been coming in for years.
Well, the business owners said the man who sold the registers had retired, but it turns out one of the shop owners was the son of an old friend, so the two chatted for some time. Then the guy pointed my grandfather to Office Depot, where we did find the register. It was weird for my grandfather to go into that place, sterile and all, asking questions of people who worked there who weren’t invested in the store at all. But they had the register! I leafed through its pages: the design, shape, style – all have remained the same for at least 100 years. And it fits into the same leather cover my grandfather has had for 50 years, and it lasts for about 10 years: “It will last longer than me!” my grandfather said.
And that got me thinking on the way home. I realized that over the past year or two, since I’ve really been thinking about living sustainably, I’ve found myself asking on several occasions, “What would my grandfather do?”
What Would My Grandfather Do?
I can’t decide which item to buy: the inexpensive one or the nice one. What would my grandfather do? He’d first decide if he really needed it by making sure he didn’t already have one, and then figuring out if he could make do with something he already has. If he still needed to buy it, he’d buy the one that will last forever.
I have a family member who is hard on his luck right now. What would my grandfather do? He’d help him get back on his feet, any way he could.
I have a friend who is ill. What would my grandfather do? He’d go visit, and he’d bring some nice home-cooked food for the family.
I need to write something down. What would my grandfather do? He’d take an old envelope from a bill and write on the back of it. (He wrote our wedding toast on the back of a card we’d sent him months before – he liked that it was so pretty and thought it added extra meaning to the toast. Then he gave it to us after the toast as a keepsake.)
I don’t need these dishes any more. What would my grandfather do? He’d give them to someone who really does need them.
Should I go out to eat or stay in? What would my grandfather do? Stay in, unless it’s a special occasion. And going out to lunch once a week with a granddaughter who has been out of town for 15 years is a special occasion.
The economy is going south. What would my grandfather do? Stop spending, plant more food in the garden, make sure all of his money is insured and in no-risk cds, and check to be sure everyone in the family is doing ok. If they’re not, he’d help them. After all that, he’d try to figure out in his head how to turn around the economy, and how to help others in need. Then he’d put any extra money into programs that help others in need, and he’d bring up those problems to fellow board members at Kiwanis and other boards on which he serves.
It’s big things, and small things. I don’t know if these qualities come from growing up in the Depression, being a hard working man, not growing up in the computer age, or just learning to be a good person. But for my grandfather, every decision matters, to ourselves, our family, our friends, our communities, and the world as a whole.
Supporting small businesses, bringing family and friends together and being there for them – without fail, living a frugal and conscientious lifestyle, making himself aware of what is going on in the local and national economy and political arenas, and enjoying life to its fullest… These are things he does well. And for all of these reasons I often ask myself, “What would my grandfather do?”
Toasting At Our Wedding
What do you think?
Do you have someone in your life like this? Do you think about the “old ways” of doing things? Am I too nostalgic for a time when these things mattered to most people? Will we all live this way again: deliberately, happily, frugally, sustainably?