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Teaching Moments

Throughout our lives we come in contact with all sorts of teachers. Some by choice while attending school, or becoming a member of some type of sporting team, or at our place of employment, we gain knowledge from coaches, employers, parents….but what about grandparents? What type of great tutelage is bestowed among grandchildren? What is it about grandparents from which we learn that no other teacher can offer? Some convey wisdom by long lecturers, while others may share by action as opposed to word. Still others, it is who they are, and how they have behave in everyday life that gives rise to this wealth of knowledge. Jim Carroll, known to me as Grandpa Jim, was that grandparent, who during his life provided me with some phenomenal teaching moments.

I was fortunate to meet Grandpa Jim at the young age of nine. From day one and for the next 40 years I was showered with compliments, and praises, along with his sincere appetite to know how I and my family were doing. But what was that special thing that Grandpa Jim did. I had been lucky that at one time to have nearly a dozen grandparents, be it by blood or marriage. Grandpa Jim survived them all and I was blessed to have many opportunities to laugh and to enjoy a corner of his life.

I remember early on I had the opportunity to spend the night at Mantova Manor with Grandpa and his wife, Maude. My parents were attending some type of function near Long Beach, and my brother and I would enjoy an evening with Grandpa Jim. I was able to convince him (I think I just asked) to view the motion picture masterpiece, starring Steve Martin, titled “The Jerk.” Yes, Grandpa Jim took two young lads to a comedy that was rated R. I laugh today, wondering why he allowed us to see that movie. I remember watching grandpa laughing during the show, sharing a bag of popcorn and then watch him fall asleep later during the film. We’re we being bad, maybe? Or maybe it was a teaching moment for my grandfather to create a unique, silly, and definitely memorable experience.

Ah yes, Grandpa’s Jim unique greeting. Like certain music artists, some you just can’t do a decent cover. It’s too difficult and frankly it just doesn’t sound the same. That was Grandpa Jim’s greeting, one that would be difficult to replicate. Like Jack Nicklaus who made what to seem be every 8 foot putt in his heyday, grandpa’s greeting was a sure thing. Not once but every time you walked into his house, he reached out his hand for a firm handshake and a sincere look into your eyes and merely ask, “how are you?” Followed by……

“Can I get you something to eat? How about some popcorn? Some candy? How about a soda? After saying either thank you or no thank you, it really didn’t matter. It was the same greeting. You could bank on it. It was his “calling.” After offering food, he would be begin to shower you with praises.

“Gosh, you look great.” A pregnant pause. “I’m so proud of you.”

Years ago, when bicycling across America, my first overnight stop would be in Long Beach and there Grandpa Jim greeted me along with 4 other cyclists with great excitement. Pizza was already delivered and we got to be together before a great exploration. What a wonderful way to begin a 4,000 mile bike trek.

Later in life, if my wife and son were unable to join me and visit, Grandpa Jim would immediately ask “How is that beautiful wife of yours? You know she’s gorgeous, you’re a lucky man. Say, how’s Trevor? You know he’s a great swimmer, he’s something special….oh goodness, yes, you’re a lucky man.”…. “Say, can I get you somethin’ to eat?”

“How’s your dad? You know, he’s great man. Please tell him thank you for being so good to me and to my daughter. Will you tell him ‘thank you’?

And when it was time to leave, you received yet another collection of praises, another firm handshake, and a final “so, good to see you,” “come back time anytime, I’ve got plenty of room and bring that wife of yours, and bring Trevor.” Consistency.

For nearly 40 years, I received a birthday card and a Christmas card from Grandpa Jim. And yes, I was in my 40’s and still receiving a 10 spot within the birthday card. Consistency.

During the many visits that I had with Grandpa Jim, the years that I served as his attorney and CPA, he never once spoke badly about anyone. I don’t recall him ever swearing. Seriously, never an ill comment about anyone. I saw firsthand some behavior directed to Grandpa Jim that made my blood boil. Grandpa Jim would merely shrug it off, not give it any energy, and move on. Consistency.

So, yes, Grandpa Jim played the same hand for nearly 40 years. He was reliable. You knew that when you walked into his home, you would be treated with impeccable love and kindness. I wonder. If we all greeted each other with the same level of enthusiasm to our spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, and friends, and we did this consistently, just as Grandpa Jim did for so many years, the world would be so much better. Hmm. Yes, Grandpa Jim’s consistent loving behavior, another great teaching moment.

Unlike my brother, Kory, I didn’t begin to have the many nights of living together with Grandpa Jim. Most of the time, my visits were short. However, there were 3 special times that were quite memorable. I was able to golf with Grandpa Jim, along with Kory, and my wife Leslie. I think we only played nine holes. All I remember is just having fun with Grandpa Jim, that’s it.

One night I stopped by Grandpa’s house and he wanted to know where I lived in Oregon. So, I introduced him to Google Earth. For nearly 2 hours, we traveled the city of Corvallis, we stopped by my office; we wondered the streets on the internet and enjoyed a grand tour of the city. While grandpa may not have known much about computers, he understood this particular technology. He was in awe. He asked “hey, can we go to Nebraska?” A couple of clicks and we’re at his Nebraska home from years ago. We meandered around the town of North Platt and he shared stories as we wonder back and forth in the city. What an amazing night! Traveling to Oregon and then to Nebraska, all from his living room in Long Beach.

This past Thanksgiving, I thought, while my wife and son began their Christmas shopping the day after Turkey day, I would visit my grandpa. I had been told that he wasn’t getting out much. I was prepared. After the infamous “can I get you something to eat?” I replied. “Let’s go to the club for lunch.”

“Do I look okay?” grandpa asked.

I replied, “Well your white t-shirt looks brand new. Let’s go.”

And we were off to the club for a splendid lunch. We watched from afar young bucks hitting booming drives at the driving range. From there, I posed another question, “Grandpa, we could go back home and watch Nebraska lose the football game, or we could go to the beach?”

A resounding, “let’s go to the beach” was offered.

We sped off in his ole black Ford that looked like it hadn’t been washed since the Hoover administration. A quick car wash and we were on our way. We drove to downtown Long Beach, passed the Queen Mary, drove by the shipyard, and parked in front of the harbor building for which he worked for many years. We walked along the Long Beach marina, seeing folks playing volleyball, and then poked along Ocean Boulevard while he narrated and pointed to where he lived and what he did.

As we started heading home, Grandpa Jim piped up and asked “can we stop by and get a malt?’

“Absolutely!” We delighted in scarfing down two strawberry shakes, while soaking in the sun along the Long Beach shores. The day was to coming to a close and we headed back to his humble abode. I told him that I loved him, and he gave me his ever popular firm handshake and said “Buff, it’s so good to see you. You can come back anytime.”

Did we climb a tall mountain, did we dine at an expensive restaurant, or did we travel to some distance place? No, instead, we enjoyed a golf game, we explored the magic of surfing the web, and we drove along, sightseeing, reminiscing, and enjoying a strawberry shake. We enjoyed some rather innocuous activities that generated great memories that will be etched in my mind forever. Yes, a teachable moment.

So many great memories.

Today, I too have grandchildren and like Grandpa Jim, I try to greet with enthusiasm, and sometimes explore new places, and if I’m lucky enough I might be able to share a milkshake or two with a granddaughter or grandson, and during my grandchildren’s lives, and in honor of Jim Carroll and to carry on his legacy, I can only hope that I too can provide a few teachable moments as a grandfather for others to enjoy.

Bill Witt - CPA, Attorney
Entrepreneur, Speaker & Author
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