Cleveland, Ohio (c. 1938)
Meet Homer and Dor
The last time I saw my grandparents together was in 2008, shortly before my grandfather passed. Over dinner that night, my grandma was telling us one of her favorite stories about the time she met my grandpa on a blind date after his high school football game. Her mind was beginning to fail her, and many of her stories were on repeat in those days. But this one was her favorite. And as she told her story during dinner, my grandpa kept holding her hand and kindly smiled as she told it three times over like it was the first time every time.
They had been married 65 years by then, and almost up until the end they were still having parties, going for walks in the woods, and watching baseball games from the bleachers. It’s no lie they were still finding as much joy through all their years as they did when they were practically kids at West Tech High School. They were spritely people.
This week, I’m writing about some of the things that make for a spritely life. And at the top of that list is spending time with spritely people. There’s nothing like being with people who live robust and inspiring lives, to make you want to turn around and do the same.
My grandparents have both been gone for a few years now, but their impact on my life hasn’t ever ended, so it feels only right to share about them – some of the spriteliest people I have ever had the privilege to know. I hope that hearing and seeing a few snapshots about them inspires you to recognize (or find!) those people in your own life who can remind you to live life to the full all your livelong days. Here are just a few things I learned from them that I carry with me still.
There’s Always Room
For my grandparents, family was an ever-increasing web of hospitality. They were includes and inviters. Even with six kids, 18 grandkids, and 16 great grandkids, their little house always managed to pack in more people – neighbors, friends, and all sorts of interesting people we’d bring home with us from school and beyond. Sharing life with others was an important part of their household. They knew how to make other people feel like they belonged. Often that included ice cream – and there was almost always multiple half-gallons in their freezer. I like to say that even though they never kept much money for themselves or owned fancy cars, they were some of the highest class people I ever met in the way they cared for others. They taught me that there was always more room at the table – in fact if there literally wasn’t enough room at a regular table, throwing some table-clothes over top of the ping-pong table works just fine too (#protip). When function precedes fancy, there’s always room.
Another important lesson I gleaned from them, is age is irrelevant when it comes to having a blast. They never stopped playing. They were always up to something. When they were young parents, they weren’t afraid to get messy when they played with the kids. One year they assembled a miniature roller-coaster for them for Christmas. I’m told my grandma hurt her back pretty good giving that thing a trial run, but fifty years later her kids are still talking about how much fun (and how crazy) it was. Where did they even come up with that? In their later years, there are piles of pictures of them sitting on the floor playing blocks and board games with their grandkids. In fact, some of the pictures of my grandma would not be frame-worthy precisely because they are just blurs – she was either throwing something or chasing someone. Some of my favorites are of her chasing my cousin around the house, and laughing so hard I was worried she was going to fall over. And that was when she was 88. She was a kid at heart and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways. I hope to grow up to be as much of a kid as she did. For almost their whole lives long they regularly made time to meet up with their friends from their younger days. They took their card games very seriously and kept record of all winners (and losers, which was usually where my name went because I never quite got the hang of cards) in a raggedy three-ring spiral notebook that lived in the corner of their dining room. It was called “The Book”. And when they weren’t home, they were out romping around the great outdoors in their camper, fishing during the day and cooking s’mores at night. Make no mistake, these two both worked incredibly hard over the course of their lives, but they always knew how to press pause. It turns out that life, without punctuations of play and rest, is an exasperatingly long run-on sentence.
You Be You
One of the most striking things about my grandparents is the way they encouraged each of their children and grandchildren to grow into the things they saw in them, even when those things weren’t the norm. In my mom’s case, when she was newly graduated from high school, my grandpa knew that she was not happy in her job as a secretary in a law firm. He knew that she liked to work with her hands and was good at it, so he encouraged her to pursue a career as a carpenter even that wasn’t really something the ladies were doing then. My mom gave it a shot. She took the test and got into trade school. There weren’t many (or in some cases any) other women around her on the job, but she was doing something she was good at and that she enjoyed. She’s gone on to do other things in her life since then, but she’s still got the power tools and can work wonders with 2x4s. In many ways, knowing this, that the sky is the limit, has been my greatest inheritance from my grandparents. So much so, that it was absolutely shocking to me in my academic and professional career to meet people who don’t think I should be where I was because I was “a girl”. But, in those times, this gentle reminder has helped me push through discouragement. Each of us is born a bundle of possibilities and particularities and that is no accident.
And I guess that brings me here. When I was little, my grandma always told me that she liked reading what I wrote – even though they were silly stories about fish or elementary school opinion pieces on public art. Really fascinating stuff. When I was in middle school, she even gave me a very pretty pen and told me to keep writing. In all this time, I feel like I have never really known what to write about, so I guess it feels appropriate to start here, writing about her and my grandpa. And hoping she wouldn’t be toooo embarrassed that I posted a picture of her on a see-saw.
Be encouraged today and think about the people in your life who inspire you to live full and spritely lives. Figure out ways to spend more time with them. And while you’re at it, be that person for someone else. I hope you’ll continue to join me as I explore what makes for a Spritely Life. I’m glad you’re here!