One of my very earliest memories–you know the kind where you can only remember about a 3-second window of time from the first years of your life–is of me running around the corner in my old North Platte, Neb. home. As I turned the corner, all I see are the boots and legs of a very tall man just a couple inches in front of me. I look up to see who it was that I nearly collided with, and I see the big ear-to-ear grin of my Grandpa Crow looking down on me. He picks me up, and that’s it. Memory over. Me looking up to him, him smiling down on me, and he lifts me up.
I am blessed and fortunate to have built a wealth of memories with my maternal grandfather over the years. Undoubtedly, the most vivid of which come from early 2003 when I moved to Arnold, Neb. to temporarily live with my grandparents during the winter and spring calving season. I had finished a 3-year stint as a photojournalist at the Lincoln Journal star and was lining up a string of travel adventures. I guess it was a time in my life when I was trying to find myself.
The first of those adventures were to be the stint at my grandparents, followed by a summer teaching photography at a Maine summer camp for kids, then a grand road trip across America then I didn’t know, maybe the Peace Corps.
At the beginning of my time in Arnold, Neb., where I lived in my grandparent’s basement, I saw the world through a young man’s eyes. My life goals were small. So small that today I can’t even remember what they were, but I can tell you that prior to spending all that time with my grandparents I never really looked beyond my 30’s or 40’s for what I wanted to accomplish in life.
That gradually changed as I spent time living immersed in the world my grandparents created. As farmers, they truly lived off the fruit of their labor. I loved the concept that the harder they worked, the more success they could accomplish. That their farm and all their land and all their implements were bought and paid for with the sweat off their brow. I don’t think I enjoyed the same opportunity working in the newspaper business, an industry that I felt lacked much upward mobility and rarely rewarded talent and hard work.
But Grandpa’s “stuff” was only a small fraction of his wealth. Before living with him, I never considered what life would be like in my 60’s, 70’s or 80’s without family. In my former life, I had always looked at bachelorhood through the eyes of a guy in his 20s. It could be a fun lifestyle well into my 30s I figured. And the 40s are the new 30s, right?
At some point life catches up to you and it’s no longer enjoyable to have stuff if you don’t have a family to share it with. And that is where my grandfather was extremely wealthy. With four children of his own who eventually provided him with 13 grandchildren, a number that is about to be eclipsed by the number of his great-grandchildren. Living there I realized his greatest blessing was getting to spend life with family and to be surrounded by people he loves.
And ultimately, that is how he passed: surrounded by people he loved.
It was during those months living with my grandparents that I met my to-be wife. Today, my wealth is defined by the amazing family the two of us are creating–and the caring families who created the two of us. My grandfather was no small influence in all of that.
It’s been more than 30 years since I turned that corner and nearly ran into my grandfather’s legs. But even after his passing, I still find myself looking up to him.